13 September, 2021

Six Books I Read This Summer

The season started in March, with a book my mother sent me, When This Is Over: Pandemic Poems, by Ralph James Savarese, an Iowa poet. I picked through its contents slowly, wondering at my disconnect from the world. The same happened after 9-11, when I listened to countless news radio broadcasts, failing to fully appreciate the immensity of what was being discussed. Because in September of 2001, I was locked in a cell and facing my own zero-sum existential battle, media coverage of the Twin Towers tragedy had a slight whiff of overreaction – a scent to which I'm deathly allergic. Savarese's pieces in When This Is Over similarly overtaxed my empathic algorithm. My response was less "So what?" than "Too much, too soon." Because several of his autobiographical poems mention his son, who is, as I am, on the autism spectrum, I hope he'll understand my stance and be forgiving of it.

For me, The Sandman Omnibus, Volume III, by renowned British SF writer Neil Gaiman, constituted a conclusion twenty-four years in the making. I started reading his gorgeous, lush Sandman graphic novels in 1997, when my friend Stasia loaned me what was then the entire run. The series ran for a while longer, spinning off several excellent tie-in miniseries, such as Death: The High Cost of Living and Sandman: The Dream Hunters, in the process. By the time Gaiman wrapped it all up, in the six-part Sandman: Overture, I'd moved far enough away from the world of comic books that even this award-winning literary work couldn't draw me back to the fold.

Now, however, I've made time enough to read the entire cycle through. As she did with the previous two dictionary-sized hardcover volumes, the ever-generous Emily C. sent me Volume III as a gift. And what a marvelous gift they've been! Like visiting old friends, from Martin Tenbones to Mad Hettie. No spoilers here, but I will say that the ending satisfied immensely, even as it left me in thrall to Desire and Despair.

Different forms of those presented themselves when I read the Framed for Life, Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3/4, the latest exculpatory endeavor by John Allen, who also wrote the series of Skeptical Juror books, beginning with The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Byron Case. Although he wrote that particular text before meeting me, we've since become friends. Subsequently, he's had ten years to research and refine the most thorough, logical narrative of the case of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's death, and my wrongful conviction for her supposed murder, yet. Framed for Life isn't for casual readers. It represents a systematic synthesis of data organization, information gathering, experimentation, and the author's obstinate willingness to raise a few hackles at the Jackson County Prosecutors Office, which these books show conspired to convict me, as well as many others (i.e., Theodore White, Richard Buchli, Ricky Kidd, et alii), with perjurious testimony, withholding and altering evidence, and generally being amoral shits. These weren't easy reads for me (see my "Framed For Life" post from mid-August), but I'm glad I made myself read them anyway.

Master Ma's Ordinary Mind: The Sayings of Zen Master Mazu Daoyi, by Fumio Yamada (translated by Nick Bellando), a Japanese Zen teacher, enriched my life at a rate of one saying per day. When I finished with that book, The Zen Sayings of Homeless Kodo, by Kosho Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura, and edited by Molly Delight Whitehead, footed the bill. Both books offered straightforward teachings and commentary, but the latter did so from the perspective of three generations of teachers, beginning with the eponymous Kodo Sawaki, who died in 1966. The teachers in that book piggybacked off Kodo's words – and each other's. Imagine a posthumous correspondence with a parent and a grandparent. (Zen Buddhism is big on lineage and refers to one's teacher as one's dharma mother or father.) Both offered worthy insights.

For the literary gifts mentioned here, and for everything else that you do for me, thanks again, John, Emily, and my dear Mum. I appreciate all of you so much.

1 comment:

Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.