Monday, October 28, 2013

Shadows in Real Life

Shadows on the Lake
photo by amy
"You remember, when Queen Dido offers Aeneas hospitality, she says:  Having known misery, I have learned to pity the miserable.  Our poor wood-carrier is like Queen Dido." (Euclide to Cecile in Willa Cather's Shadows on the Rock)

I'm going to start this post with an insight about myself I didn't like discovering and I think probably reflects poorly on our society at large.  Early on in Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, a poor, poorly-tended child named Jacques says to the his friend Cecile:  "Sometimes sailors like children too."  And a little later, he begins to recount an experience he had with a priest.  Both of these happenings ended up being positive, helpful experiences for Jacques.  But before I knew what happened, I automatically assumed that both occurrences were going to involve some kind of abuse.  Why?  I've never been the victim of abuse.  I have no reason to make that kind of assumption.  All I can think is that as a society, we are so inundated with news about these kinds of abuses that it has become a go-to assumption for someone even as na├»ve as I am.  Is this a poor reflection on the world we inhabit or on the news to which we are constantly subjected?  I don't watch or read the news, but I still have these over-arching negative impressions so imprinted in my mind that these are the conclusions I reach with no evidence.  This makes me sad.

What makes me happy, though, is a novel like this one.  I love Willa Cather.  This is the fourth of her novels I have read.  I absolutely love her ability to transport me into the places and times of her novels. You don't read Cather for the plot; you read Cather for the perfect and perfectly beautiful descriptions of both the characters and the settings.  While not a lot happens in the novel, the plot does resolve nicely for someone like me who likes a happy ending.  I grew to love the characters:  Cecile Auclair, the twelve year old daughter of Euclide, Count de Frontenac's hand-chosen apothecary, who is also a lovely character;  the Count himself and old Bishop Laval, both of whom love and care for their people in understated, humble ways; sweet, damaged Blinker and little Jacques Gaux; Father Hector, the bishop to the wild ones, and Pierre Charron, one of the first true Canadians of European descent, who loves his land as few others do and makes a point of sharing that love with Cecile.

Since finishing Shadows on the Rock, I have been to the bookstore and to Amazon and to the library and acquired about 10,000 other books and have not been able to settle in to read ANY of them.  What to do, what to do?  Maybe another Cather?  We'll see.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We All Need Healthy Attachments

Attachments to my kitchen houseplant
"I pictured a girl who could be that kind and that kind of funny.  I pictured a girl who was that alive...a girl who never got tired of her favorite movies...who saved dresses like ticket stubs--who could get high on the weather...I pictured a girl who made every moment, everything she touched, and everyone around her feel lighter and sweeter." from Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I started last week kind of down, aimless, purposeless.  Hell, who am I kidding...I start every day like that.  You know,  life--what's it about?  What's the point?  Existential angst ad nauseam.  So what does one do at that kind of nadir?  Go to the bookstore, of course.  And at the bookstore, I looked for Attachments by Rainbow Rowell after having read a book blog review wherein the author said something like "Go find this book.  Now."  Oh my lord I loved this book.  The people!  The dialogue!  The structure!

The two women friends sound exactly like my best friend and me when we talk.  Smart, funny, realistic, but wanting to be hopelessly romantic, hoping against hope, blah blah blah.  I'm so thankful to have this kind of friendship in my life, cause Lord knows I have no luck having any kind of long-term, fulfilling love interest.  I'm always a sucker for a happy romantic ending.  It's so encouraging to imagine that as a possibility, even if it's just in a book.  It's nice, on occasion, to read about love in all its potential, unrealistic glory.  Attachments was perfect for me last week.  So much so that I need another similar dose.  Now, where to find it...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Serendipity

Everyday Elegance
photo by amy
 "Most of us shell our days like peanuts.  One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement."
from The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Serendipity: -- noun 1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. 2. good fortune; luck
I'm not sure I would say I have an aptitude for serendipity, but the last month, I certainly had at least two occasions of it at my local library.  I've finished three novels since last I blogged, two of which I had no plan to read, stumbled upon at the library, and ended up absolutely loving.  The two winners were The Universe vs Alex Woods by Gavin Extence and The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, both very different novels but both immensely enjoyable in my opinion.
I'll start with the other book, which I did not love (and which ironically was the book I went to the library to get--maybe I should stop planning ahead):  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  This book was very readable.  The plot moves right along.  It's fairly well-written and not hard to follow.  The problem from my perspective is that I lack the ability, which so many seem to have, of wanting to suffer vicariously through the fiction I read.  I've suffered enough in life.  I don't want to suffer with my fictional friends, and this novel read like a catalog of suffering.  It's as if the author said, "Let's see how many different horrors I can put these women through and include them all."  I understand that this kind of life is reality for many people in the world, including the women of Afghanistan, and I hurt for them.  I truly do.  I just can't take their suffering on.  I have to get up and be functional every day.  I have kids, a job, a mortgage.  I can't sink into depression for the suffering of the world, and that is what works like this do to me.
I suspect the reason I found the first novel I stumbled on, The Universe vs Alex Woods, so entertaining and engaging was because I absolutely loved the narrator, the teenaged Alex Woods.  I'm not going to say anything else about the book or what ended up being its very serious theme, because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might read it.  My recommendation is go find this book!  It will only take you a few days to read, and it will satisfy you in the way all novels with heart-warming characters do.
I'm at a bit of a loss to describe The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  The writing is witty and intelligent.  The setting, New York City in 1938, is elegant and beautifully depicted.  The main character, Kate Kontent, is another person I would love to know. (Know, hell.  I'd love to be her.)  There are little nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout the novel.  The plot is engaging but not really what drives the book.  I can't tell you why exactly, but I feel like this one may end up being something my grandchildren will still be reading.
And now, I'm suffering from what one of my friends calls a book hangover.  I can't settle down to anything, because it all seems to pale in comparison to what I just finished.  I'm thinking an Agatha Christie may be in order to pull me through the next few days.  We shall see.  Happy reading!

How to Save a Life, One Day at a Time

photo by Amy Brandon   "Little things heal our hurts. Sounds, scents, the spoken word, and music that may mean nothing to someon...