Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ida B
Katherine Hannigan

To the amusingly eccentric, 4th-grade, eponymous heroine, the trees in her family's apple orchard make for interesting conversation partners:

Now, some people might stop me right there and say, "Ida B, you could wait for eternity and a day and you're not going to hear one of those trees talking to you, let alone a brook. Trees don't have mouths, and they don't speak, and you might want to take yourself to the doctor's and get a very thorough check-up real soon."

And after I took a minute to give my patience and forbearance a chance to recover my mouth from the rudeness that was itching to jump out of it, I would just say this: "There's more than one way to tell each other things, and there's more than one way to listen, too. And if you've never heard a tree telling you something, then I'd say you don't really know how to listen just yet. But I'd be happy to give you a few pointers sometime."
Near the end of the book, I repeated to myself resolutely, "Not going to cry. Not going to cry." After one tear slipped out, I thought, "just one tear isn't really crying." Then another . . . Ida B wasn't sappy, just moving in its wonder and honesty; I'll have to keep it in mind to suggest to my daughter when she's older.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Chesil Beach
Ian McEwan

SPOILER! What follows is the book's final paragraph. It was so beautifully written and made such an emotional impression on me that I was compelled to include it. On Chesil Beach has rattled about in my head since I read it, and I would heartily recommend it to someone who would like to experience McEwan but is wary of committing to Atonement or Saturday.




When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now, of course, he saw that her self-effacing proposal was quite irrelevant. All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience - if only he had had them both at once - would surely have seen them both through. And then what unborn children might have had their chances, what young girl with a headband might have become his loved familiar? This is how the entire course of a life can be changed - by doing nothing. On Chesil Beach he could have called out to Florence, he could have gone after her. He did not know, or would not have cared to know, that as she ran away from him, certain in her distress that she was about to lose him, she had never loved him more, or more hopelessly, and that the sound of his voice would have been a deliverance, and she would have turned back. Instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer's dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams

(This is a fresh post - I just read this book last week, in mid-April.)

Am I the last person or dolphin to read this book? Generally, the only fiction genre I enjoy is mystery, so unless I get a strong recommendation from someone, I tend to avoid science fiction, horror, romance, etc. Chris encouraged me to give Hitchhiker's a try recently and said that I'd know right off whether I should slam the book shut or read the whole series. (I'm currently reading a book of which it was said, "the first 300 pages are slow, but if you can trudge through them, it gets a lot better.") I really liked the book and already have the second on reserve.

We are told the poetry of the Vogons is among the worst in the universe (one such title: "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning"). What made me chuckle was earthling Arthur's flattery in "theory" speak:
'Oh yes,' said Arthur, 'I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was particularly effective.'
[. . .]

'Oh . . . and, er . . . interesting rhythmic devices too,' continued Arthur, 'which seemed to counterpoint the . . . er . . . er . . . .' he floundered.

Ford leaped to his rescue, hazarding '. . . counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the . . . er . . .' He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.

'. . . humanity of the . . .'

'Vogonity,' Ford hissed at him.

'Ah yes, Vogonity - sorry - of the poet's compassionate soul' - Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now - 'which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other' - he was reaching a triumphant crescendo - 'and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into . . . into . . . er . . .' (which suddenly gave out on him).

Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:
'Into whatever it was the poem was about!' he yelled.
Ah yes, "the other" - must-use babble for "theory is so hot!" grad students. (Not that years of literature studies have left me cynical or anything. . . .)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great
Karen Karbo

It has been far too long since I've posted to this, my digital commonplace book. I just found four posts that have been sitting in draft for months. The quotations were noted months ago, but most of the comments I just wrote today (April 21). Here's the first:

[Hepburn had] sensational bone structure, the most fabulous bone structure in the history of cinema, up to and including the one belonging to Johnny Depp.

That man is too beautiful for his own good.

Once, she wore jeans to work. That was simply too much. In the 1930s, no one wore jeans but farmers, forty-niners, and movie cowboys. A production assistant was instructed to take Hepburn's jeans while she was in her dressing room, hoping to shame her into finding a skirt to slip into. Instead, Hepburn traipsed around in her underwear until the jeans were returned.
Love that chutzpah!

[A]ctresses of Hepburn's stature strove for uniqueness. Garbo was pure mystery with her sloe eyes and deep voice. Bette Davis had that famous mouth, curious diction, and rock-lyric-inspiring eyes. Lauren Bacall was a home-grown exotic, with her honey-colored hair and jungle-cat grace. They all made it their business to be one of a kind, to strive to be in no one else's category but their own. How different from today. We are all alleged nonconformists, with our individual playlists, our sassy bumper stickers, small-of-the-back tattoos, and pierced parts. I'm always reminded of the great scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Brian tells his followers, 'You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!' And the crowd recites, 'Yes, we're all individuals!' And one lone voice in the crowd pipes up in a cockney accent, 'I'm not!'
Above was my favorite passage in that book, not only because I'm a lifelong fan of classic movies in general and those actresses in particular, but because it acknowledges the genius that is Monty Python (. . . and the peasants rejoice!).

Everyone is the marrying kind these days, with the exception of George Clooney.* [. . .] *Clooney is a sort of male Hepburn for the modern age. There's his devotion to privacy, the mystery surrounding his love life, his intelligence and wit, unique sense of personal style, iconoclastic movie career, and eccentricities, one of which he displayed recently when he publicly grieved the death of Max, his three hundred-pound Chinese potbellied pig, who is rumored to have shared Clooney's bed, thus making him the envy of millions.
This made me giggle. As a Clooney swooner, I admired his devotion to that pig.

The world is full of tenderhearted, intelligent people who are waiting for their personal misery to let up before attacking anything that might interest them. These people have suffered.

Ouch. That hit a nerve.

For the problem with ignoring grief is that is doesn't go away. It's not a harmless rash. Whoever said that time heals all needed to have his head examined. Primo Levi said that sometimes an injury cannot be healed, that it extends through time. The writer Jonathan Safran Foer wondered recently, 'What if time is the wound?'
My life took a dark turn last December. I struggle each day and wonder if one day it won't hurt quite so much anymore. My neighbor has a framed quotation on her mantle that reads "Surviving is important; thriving is elegant" (by Maya Angelou, I believe), and I've been repeating that in my head every day since I first laid eyes on it. Surviving is important. Surviving is important. Surviving is important. I believe that time heals some but not all, and so I find myself politely smiling when a well-meaning friend tells me my life will be better a year from now. I truly hope they see something I can't, but in the meantime, I'm just trying to survive.

Way #22 for getting your Hepburn on:

Make it count.