15 books


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The latest Facebook fad is listing 15 things that will “always stick with you.” One that interested me enough to participate was “15 books.”

The Nine Billion Names of God

  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  • When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone by Galway Kinnell
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • Collected Poems, 1909-1962 by T.S. Eliot
  • The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Poems, 1965-1975 by Seamus Heaney
  • I and Thou by Martin Buber
  • The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo
  • Writing the Australian Crawl by William Stafford
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

My 10 favorite museums in the whole world


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Mark Twain wrote in 1869, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Truer words could not be said today. For me, a nation’s museums encapsulate its own culture but also take visitors beyond the country’s borders, helping one understand the shared connections and fascinating differences between all people. In museums, I feel connected not only with people living today, but also with all those people who came and went hundreds or thousands of years before. Museums make me proud to be a human.

Gates of Nimrud - British MuseumBritish Museum, London
http://www.britishmuseum.org/

Empire has its benefits — the systematic pillaging of world cultural heritage and its subsequent preservation. Where might key pieces of the Parthenon have ended up if Lord Elgin hadn’t carted off the best pieces? Similarly, the wholesale looting of Iraqi museums in 2003 makes Sumerian and Babylonian collections in The British Museum that much more important.

And yet, “That’s here?!” kept running through my head as I walked through the crowded galleries last August. The archaeology books I grew up reading were filled with pictures of the very objects I found myself standing next to that day.

Mixed emotions aside, The British Museum remains the favorite museum I’ve ever visited, from the stone age atlatl carved like a mammoth to the handwritten letters between residents of Roman Britain. The modest exhibit of Japanese items took me back nearly 20 years to my childhood. An amazing day only got better when I connected with a friend for the 2008 edition of the Non-Smoking Vegetarian Teatotallers’ Pub Crawl.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
http://www.mfa.org/

My favorite museum in the States, the MFA’s collection includes important early American art, key pieces of European art (the usual Monets, Renoirs, and Van Goghs), and a surprisingly excellent collection of Egyptian and Asian antiquities.

National Gallery & St. Martin-in-the-FieldsThe National Gallery, London
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

I never intended to visit The National Gallery, but after wandering alone from Russell Square through Covent Garden on my first afternoon in London and allowing myself to get lost, I emerged onto Trafalgar Square. To my left, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. On my right, the steps leading up to The National Gallery.

I switched my iPod from The Clash to Mozart’s Requiem (as performed by the Academy and Chorus from the aforementioned church). With an hour before the museum closed for the evening, I blew through the Impressionists (“Yup, I’ve seen a picture of that.”) and the stifling religious iconography of the Medieval period.

Instead, I lingered among the Dutch Masters until the docents began herding visitors to the exits. It was dark outside when I walked down the steps and looked up at Nelson’s Column. In the distance, the moon rose over Big Ben.

Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo

What wasn’t hauled off to the British Museum, the MFA, or the Louvre sits crammed into the echoing halls of the Cairo Museum. In August 1994, I’d just wrapped up a dig in Jordan, and was touring key sites in Israel and Egypt with archaeology professors and students. I hadn’t visited the British Museum or the MFA yet, and my first exposure to important pieces of Egyptian archaeology happened right there in Egypt.

From King Tut’s treasures and the strange art of Akhenaten’s rule to the famous mummies in their climate-controlled room (a brief respite from the 113-degree heat outside), there was more than I could possibly take in in a day.

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
http://www.si.edu/

Sure, the other museums that make up the Smithsonian have important works of art and fascinating displays about history and science, but nothing so elegantly summarizes the American spirit for me than the Air & Space Museum. The Wright Flyer, Apollo 11 command capsule, and Spirit of St. Louis symbolize the spirit of exploration and progress that emerge now and then from behind the darker spirit symbolized by the hulking nose of the Enola Gay…

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp

…which brings me to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. My grandparents visited us in Japan in 1981/1982, and I took a multi-city train trip with my Grandpa B. The apocalyptic diorama full of bomb-blasted mannequins in the museum gave me nightmares for years. “Favorite” is perhaps not the right word for this museum, but the horrors of that museum made me an unreserved pacifist for life.

National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Dublin
http://www.museum.ie/

Two days after visiting the British Museum, I spent a rainy day in Dublin at the National Museum of Ireland, where I learned that Dublin was founded by Vikings. Who knew? The gold hoards were certainly spectacular (with many a missing item noted as “in the collection of the British Museum), but I particularly enjoyed seeing the bog people.

Trinity College - DublinTrinity College Library, Dublin
http://www.tcd.ie/Library/

The Dublin Writers Museum north of the Liffey held my hopes for finding literary inspiration while in Dublin, but instead the tourist-thronged Book of Kells and medieval manuscript exhibits at Trinity College’s library were much more intriguing. Beyond the spectacular illuminated Bibles, the exhibits included day-to-day books from medieval Europe.

The Long Room in the Old Library building itself is a place of beauty, scented with the leather of books older than most cities in America. The room is lined with marble busts of writers dating back to the 18th century. The oldest harp in Ireland (the very harp depicted on its coins) stands to one side, along with a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the Easter Rising of 1916.

Auckland War Memorial MuseumAuckland War Memorial Museum
http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/

Without much time to leave Auckland during my free time on a business trip last December (or to learn much beforehand — I left on 24 hours’ notice), the Auckland Museum served as my crash course in New Zealand’s natural and human history.

The dramatic effect of human migration was evident on the natural history floor, where it felt like the exhibits included mostly extinct or near-extinct species (including a cast of the famous Sue from Chicago, though humans had little to do with the extinction of the T. Rex).

Growing up as an American in Japan, my perspective and understanding of the Pacific War were dominated by those two countries. Seeing exhibits about World War II from the point of view of a third Pacific island country was fascinating.

National Archaeological Museum, Amman

A lot less shiny (and biblical) than the Israel Museum less than 50 miles across the Jordan Rift Valley, the National Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan nevertheless has an amazing collection spanning essentially the entirety of human civilization, from the paleolithic to the Islamic era. Jordan controlled what is today the West Bank in the early days of excavations at Jericho, and key sites in the country also include well-preserved Roman cities and the rock-hewn Nabataean capital of Petra (you know, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Standing face to face with a skull on which someone nine thousand years ago carefully recreated the features of the deceased was one of those moments I’ll never forget.

Bonus: 5 more museums to visit before I die

  • Musee d’Orsay, Paris
  • The Louvre, Paris
  • Prado Museum, Madrid
  • The State Hermitage, St. Petersburg
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Amazon, Powell’s, and eBay

Recent book purchases:

  • Matthew Arnold: The Portable Matthew Arnold
  • Wendell Berry: The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
  • Robert Bly: Eating the Honey of Words
  • Billy Collins: The Trouble with Poetry
  • Emily Dickinson: Collected Poems
  • Kilala Kitamoto: LEGO book museum Vol. 1
  • W.S. Merwin: Selected Poems
  • William Stafford: The Way It Is
  • William Stafford: Writing the Australian Crawl
  • David Wagoner: Dry Sun, Dry Wind (First Edition)

A New Beginning?

I’m reasonably confident that I can count on two fingers the people who are even aware that this blog exists, so I haven’t really been taking the time to keep it current. But that doesn’t mean my literary life hasn’t been busy over the last six months. Andrew-Becraft.com really isn’t my top priority, I’ll admit, but perhaps I can keep this blog a bit more current than it has been.

So, what’ve I been up to?

Between March and May, I took a ten-week “master class” in poetry from David Wagoner at Richard Hugo House (a place you can expect to hear about fairly often from now on). I also had the privilege of talking with David one-on-one during his office hours as one of the Hugo House “Writers in Residence.” The class focused on revision techniques, which I’ve applied to several of the poems written in the year prior to taking the class. I have a backlog of about 60 other “active” poems that I need to revisit.

After the end of the class, I participated in my first reading. Reading in class for the first time was gut-wrenchingly terrifying. Reading to David alone was, if possible, worse (though David is a gracious, generous man, and my fear was completely irrational). Reading to an audience? Well, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my knees began shaking about halfway through my first poem. I got through two poems, though, and felt like I’d accomplished something new in my writing career.

In July, I took another class at Hugo House, a one-day course called “First Impressions” with Kim Addonizio. The focus of this class was on opening lines — both poetry and prose. I’ve been told that my poetry is “quiet,” so giving more thought to ways I can invite the reader into my poems earlier (to paraphrase Billy Collins) was well worth a Saturday afternoon. I’ll admit that the only poems by Kim I’d read before taking the class were those in Poetry and ones I’d found online the night before, but I enjoyed the reading she gave from her newest novel, My Dreams Out in the Street, a follow-up to her 1997 poetry collection Jimmy & Rita.

Earlier this evening, I read at another Hugo House reading. Somewhat less terrifying the second time around, but my knees still knocked a little and I had to lean on the podium. I read four poems. I stuck around afterward to talk to other writers/readers, Hugo House staffers, and people in the audience. I really appreciated Nick the musician’s compliments about both my delivery and the mechanics of my poems. I also spent some time talking to J.T. Stewart, who intrigued me with her unique approach to storytelling via a blog. Naturally, I referred her to Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.

—————

Over the last ten years since I graduated from college, my ability to write has followed a fairly specific pattern: If it’s raining, I can write; water seems to be my “triggering town.” Whether it’s because I’m commuting across Lake Washington every day, it’s rained a lot here in Seattle this summer, or a combination of all the focus I’ve put on my writing over the last six months (I hope it’s this last reason), I find that I’m still writing in August, when I would “normally” be into my annual drought.

It feels good.


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