There’s a beauty about art at its most challenging edges. The underlying idea behind “difficult” literature — as with any medium — is to impart a sense of curiosity as to how the visible elements of all we touch, smell, hear, taste and see coalesce into patterns, make sense of our experiences and memory, and shape our belief in a future. We turn to those brave and/or lucky enough to publish, perform, exhibit or build their thoughts and visions because they validate our own. And feed them.
It’s deadline time, holiday gift-wise. Fortunately there are some really great books available out there for those seeking to really have an impact this season. The following five are local, deeply original, and now vetted, as it were.
All entail memory, the process of conscious and unconscious thinking (and thoughtfulness). Each is invigorating in the ways in which their creators, invariably at the top of their powers, push their limits. Taken together, they demonstrate the breadth of modern art-making, the complexity of contemporary existence, and the universal urge we all harbor to not only make some sense of things, but find peace and solace in such attempts.
Nick Lyons Spring Creek, newly republished in a 20th anniversary edition with a new preface and Mari Lyons’ gorgeous watercolor illustrations given added emphasis, is stunningly beautiful. The Woodstock-based author, a major trout fishing authority who has taught literature and served as a publisher of others’ writings along with his own, renders the joys, patience, and experience of fishing a Montana stream over a summer. It’s descriptive writing of the highest order, where each sentence, paragraph and chapter is so well-crafted and carefully executed that one can’t help but get drawn into an emotional narrative of catharsis, no matter whether you care about fishing or not.
“Tough fishing stretches you, provides you with skills and confidence for a thousand lesser moments — and it eggs you on to take great chances,” Lyons writes late in the book, after he’s allowed his readers to grow accustomed to his stream, its owner, his fishing companions, and the thought patterns which rise as one learns to dance with nature as one fishes. “It’s not just courage that’s required, of course, but some knowledge of the kinds of major tactics that can be necessary on a trout stream, and then a perfection of the skills needed to enact them.”
Anyone who found growth through Norman Maclean’s great A River Runs Through It should be given this. Along with anyone who treasures great writing.
Similarly, Michael Perkins’ latest, Life Sentences: Aphorisms & Reflections, which the longstanding Woodstock fixture and Times contributor read from at The Golden Notebook last Sunday, shows our unofficial poet laureate and chronicler of the town’s underlying history (and endless walks) in a lighter, yet somehow much deeper mood than usual. Consider this Perkins Unbound, the way we often encounter him during a too-busy time, brightening our days with quiet, cantankerous-on-the-surface quips about this or that. Assembled here, those snippets add up to a trove of peculiarly landscape-bound knowledge, a philosophy that, read in order, gathers a sense of philosophic narrative, born of place, as it rolls along.
“If you think yourself as a good judge of character, put yourself on trial. The marvelous is always near, waiting, like a ghost, to be recognized,” some of the 500 aphorisms gathered here run. “Ideology is inevitably a recipe for murder. Do whatever you do, not so others will remember you, but so you won’t forget yourself. When it is too late, the time is right. An opinion is the first draft of thought. Poetry is still necessary — but only the right kind.”
Reading such items, a few here, a few there, makes one wish to sharpen memory…and may actually allow such things to actually occur. That Perkins has allowed himself, and us, to revive such a delightful form in a comfortable and comforting home town setting is a gift, indeed. And, hopefully, it’s a spur for us all to start collecting our own such thoughts and dangerous attempts at an ideology.