Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ninety-Nine Cents

I have been out every night this past week: dinner up at the Prindle with journalist Keith Woods of American Public Media, lecture by Harvard professor Lawrence Buell who writes on "eco-criticism" (the study of literature and the environment), picking up philosopher Cheshire Calhoun at the airport for her two-day visit to DePauw, the final meeting of the Cheshire Calhoun reading group. So last night I bought myself an early dinner at the Dairy Castle: a small hot fudge sundae with their wonderful black raspberry ice cream, my all-time favorite flavor. Then I went home at seven, put on my nightgown, and got into bed with my Kindle.

I bought a Kindle last year but have used it very little, even though I like so much about it: how small and lightweight it is; how easy it is to "turn the pages"; and best of all, the instant gratification of dreaming up a book you want to read one minute and having it delivered to "Claudia's Kindle" the next. But I just sort of forget that I have it. This week I remembered my Kindle when I saw a piece in the New York Times about the new Kindle Singles: nonfiction pieces by top-notch authors designed to be read in a single sitting. The Times article recommended one in particular: The Heart of Haiku, by Jane Hirshfield. I went to the Kindle website and bought it for ninety-nine cents. And then I spent the evening reading it.

It was delicious, a brief biography of the life of seventeenth-century haiku master Basho, interspersed with dozens of his haiku, each one analyzed to reveal common haiku themes. For example:

On a leafless branch,
a crow's settling:
autumn nightfall

Hirshfield used this haiku to explain the concept of sabi, a kind of loneliness or solitude: "It holds the feeling of whatever is chill, withered, and pared down to the leanness of existence. . . .To feel sabi is to feel keenly one's own sharp and particular existence amid its own impermanence, and to value the singular moment. . . ."

So last night, with no other company but Ruby my plush jackrabbit puppet, I lay in bed and read haiku and felt keenly my own sharp and particular existence, and valued each singular moment of a sweet evening spent reading, all for ninety-nine cents.

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