Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

To be independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Little Women is a tale of love, friendship, family, loss, and gracefully reveling in the small joys of life. It chronicles the lives of the four March girls - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (in order of oldest to youngest) - their mother, Marmee, their father, Mr. March, and their servant but more importantly good friend, Hannah. Their next-door neighbor, Mr. Theodore Laurence, aka Laurie, becomes their bosom buddy, and a de facto brother, and his grandfather, Mr. Laurence, acts as a stand-in grandfather to all the children. The girls and Laurie enjoy many adventures and a few trials on the path to adulthood, and more than one little heart gets broken along the way. Each girl finds love in her own right and in her own time, and a few admirable and worthy men are lucky enough to join the extended March family. The Marches are poor in wealth but rich in resources and their love for each other, and by the end you'll find yourself wishing you could be a March, too.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This was one of my favorite books as a young girl, and I wasn't sure how it would stand the test of time (and timely test itself). I have two older sisters and three extended sisters in the Light girls, so this book has always been near and dear to me. I knew it would be hard to read, as it makes me yearn for the days of late-night card-playing, knitting by the fire, and sharing friendly family gossip over cups of tea. The book held up for me, and if you haven't read it, I strongly suggest you read it. Don't be fooled if you've always thought it was a story about a few silly girls - it's so much more than that.

I thought about apologizing for the length of this blog, but hang it, as Jo would say - the length of a blog entry is proportional to my love for the work, so why not remember its beauty in full, bright colors?

First, a snapshot of the March family:

  • in a letter to Marmee, his wife, while serving with the Union army in the Civil War: "I know the girls will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully, that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women."
Marmee (aka Mother):
  • "I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved, and respected; to have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send."
Hannah (servant/family friend):
  • in a letter to Marmee: "My bread is riz, so no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr. March and hope he's seen the last of his Pewmonia."
  • to Jo, while preparing to go to a ball with only one glove each: "Dear me, let us be elegant or die!"
  • "As she said herself, she was 'fond of luxury', and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it harder to bear than the others, because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown."
  • on Meg's relationship with her twins: "Meg made many moral rules, and tried to keep them; but what mother was ever proof against the winning wiles, the ingenious evasions, or the tranquil audacity of the miniature men and women who so early show themselves accomplished Artful Dodgers?" hehehehe. I know a few Artful Dodgers, myself. ;)
  • "It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys' games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy."
  • "Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid; what it was she had no idea, as yet, but left it for time to tell her; and, meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in the fact that she couldn't read, run, and ride as much as she liked."
  • to Meg, on a suggestion to rest by the fire: "Never take advice! Can't keep still all day, and, not being a pussy-cat, I don't like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I'm going to find some."
  • on Meg being in love: "She's got most of the symptoms - is twittery and cross, doesn't eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners."
  • on finding out Meg wanted to marry: "I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family."
  • "Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woollen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, 'Does genius burn, Jo?' They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on; in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew; and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew; and not until the red bow was seen gayly erect upon the gifted brow, did any one dare address Jo." I love this image - I imagine my friend, Dennis, to give off an aura much like this, on the mornings when he's hard at work on his novel. Does Genius burn, Dennis?
  • "It's easier for me to risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don't feel like it."
  • "Her father called her 'Little Tranquillity', and the name suited her excellently; for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved."
  • Beth has a gaggle of kittens that she offers to others when they need cheering up. Jo takes them over to Laurie in a basket the first time she meets him and decides he must be "rather a lonely boy". I would like someone to bring me a basket of kittens the next time I need cheering up. Suzy can swat at them lazily or sit on their faces.
  • "If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her life was, she would have answered at once, 'My nose'. When she was a baby, Jo had accidentally dropped her into the coal-hod, and Amy insisted that the fall had ruined her nose forever. It was not big, nor red, like poor 'Petrea's': it was only rather flat, and all the pinching in the world could not give it an aristocratic point. No one minded it but herself, and it was doing its best to grow, but Amy felt deeply the want of a Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to console herself."
  • "Little Raphael', as her sisters called her, had a decided talent for drawing, and was never so happy as when copying flowers, designing fairies, or illustrating stories with queer specimens of art."
  • on Amy's exploration of fire-poker-etchings: "While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration; for the odor of burning wood pervaded the house at all hours; smoke issued from attic and shed with alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed without a pail of water and the dinner-bell at her door, in case of fire. Raphael's face was found boldly executed on the under side of the moulding-board, and Bacchus on the head of a beer-barrel; a chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar-bucket, and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindlings for some time."
  • "A shadow passed over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought to go away, because uninvited; yet lingering, because home seemed very lonely, and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his restless spirit."
  • "Being only 'a glorious human boy', of course he frolicked and flirted, grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as college fashions ordained; hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and more than once came perilously near suspension and expulsion."
  • "A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners, much talent, and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into scrapes by trying to get other people out of them, he stood in great danger of being spoilt, and probably would have been, like many another promising boy, if he had not possessed a talisman against evil in the memory of the kind old man who was bound up in his success, the motherly friend who watched over him as if he were her son, and last, but not least by any means, the knowledge that four innocent girls loved, admired, and believed in him with all their hearts."
Mr. Bhaer (a professor that rooms in a boarding house where Jo is staying):
  • on learning that Jo has been darning and mending his things on the sly: "At efening I shall gif a little lesson with much gladness; for look you, Mees March, I haf this debt to pay,' and he pointed to Jo's handiwork. 'Yes,' they say to one another, these so kind ladies, 'he is a stupid old fellow; he will not see what we do; he will never opserve that his sock-heels go not in holes any more, he will think his buttons grow out new when they fall, and believe that strings make theirselves.' Ah! but I haf an eye, and I see much. I haf a heart, and I feel the thanks for this. Come, a little lesson then and now, or no more good fairy works for me and mine." I thought this was such an adorable scene. I haf an eye, and I see much! No more good fairy works, now, I mean it! (Anybody want a peanut?)
  • "Why everybody liked him was what puzzled Jo at first. He was neither rich nor great, young nor handsome; in no respect what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant; and yet he was as attractive as a genial fire, and people seemed to gather about him as naturally as about a warm hearth."
  • on finding the confidence to come back and propose to Jo: "I read that poem in the paper, and I think to myself, She has a sorrow, she is lonely, she would find comfort in true love. I have a heart full, full for her; shall I not go and say, 'If this is not too poor a thing to gif for what I shall hope to receive, take it in Gott's name? I had no courage to think that at first, heavenly kind was your welcome to me. But soon I began to hope, and then I said, 'I will haf her if I die for it,' and so I will" cried Mr. Bhaer, with a defiant nod, as if the walls of mist closing round them were barriers which he was to surmount or valiantly knock down."
A few ancillary thoughts:
- In the film version of this, I always found Beth a bit maudlin, but in the book, it's clear why she's so beloved. She gets more roundness to her character, I think, and part of what makes her so lovable is that Meg loves Amy and takes her under her wing, but it's Jo who loves Beth and comforts her. Beth softens Jo's rough edges, and Jo inspires Beth with courage. Artfully done by Louisa, I think, this tidbit of character building. And I won't lie, though I knew it was coming, I read the later passages on Beth with a box of tissues by my side. ;)

- Amy gets in trouble for bringing pickled limes, the latest fashion, to school, and gets her hand slapped by her teacher:
"She was in a sad state when she got home; and when the older girls arrived, some time later, an indignation meeting was held at once. (heheheeh. I now call to order the INDIGNATION meeting!) Mrs. March did not say much, but looked disturbed, and comforted her afflicted little daughter in the tenderest manner. Meg bathed the insulted hand with glycerine and tears; Beth felt that even her beloved kittens would fail as a balm for griefs like this; Jo wrathfully proposed that Mr. Davis be arrested without delay; and Hannah shook her fist at the 'villain' and pounded potatoes for dinner as if she had him under the pestle."

- Jo leads the girls' "Pickwick Club", modeled after Dickens' works, and they publish a paper. Here are a few excerpts: 

The Public Bereavement:
     It is our painful duty to record the sudden and mysterious disappearance of our cherished friend, Mrs. Snowball Pat Paw. This lovely and beloved cat was the pet of a large circle of warm and admiring friends. When last seen, she was sitting at the gate, watching the butcher's cart; and it is feared that some villain, tempted by her charms, basely stole her.

Lament for Snowball Pat Paw:
Her empty bed, her idle ball,
Will never see her more;
No gentle tap, no loving purr
Is heard at the parlor door.

Another cat comes after her mice,
A cat with a dirty face;
But she does not hunt as our darling did,
Nor play with her airy grace.

Weekly Report:
Meg -- Good.
Jo -- Bad.
Beth -- Very good.
Amy -- Middling.

- Laurie, as the newest member of the Pickwick Club, introduces the Post Office, or the P.O., to be located in a bush equidistant between their two houses:
Laurie: "Letters, manuscripts, books, and bundles can be passed there; and, as each nation has a key, it will be uncommonly nice, I fancy."
"The P.O. was a capital institution, and flourished wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as through the real office. Tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden-seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings and puppies. The old gentleman liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and funny telegrams; and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love-letter to Jo's care." I think the post office was my favorite bit of the March/Laurence family love affair. It seems so delightful and unexpected, and full of amusement and genuine joy.

- When Marmee tries to teach the girls a lesson by letting them neglect their work for a week, Beth's pet bird, Pip, pays the price: 
"Jo peeped into his half-open eye, felt his little heart, and finding him stiff and cold, shook her head, and offered her domino-box for a coffin.
  'Put him in the oven, and maybe he will get warm and revive,' said Amy hopefully.
  "He's been starved, and he shan't be baked, now he's dead!,' said Beth." e's not dead! e's pining! for the Fjords!

- A letter from Laurie, regarding "Camp Laurence": 

                "Dear JO
                   What ho!

Some English girls and boys are coming to see me to-morrow and I want to have a jolly time. If it's fine, I'm going to pitch my tent in Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch and croquet, - have a fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sorts of larks.  They are nice people, and like such things.  Brooke will go, to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety for the girls.  I want you all to come; can't let Beth off, at any price, and nobody shall worry her. Don't bother about rations - I'll see to that, and everything else - only do come, there's a good fellow!
   In a tearing hurry,
      Yours ever, LAURIE."  dear Laurie, I would like to come to Camp Laurence today. the weather is fine and I have an enormous hat like the one Jo sported. let me know what I can bring and where to meet you.

- Jo is friends with a few pet rats, including one she nicknames Scrabble:
"Jo's desk up here was an old tin kitchen, which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating library of such books as were left in his way, by eating the leaves. From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript; and, putting both in her pocket, crept quietly down stairs, leaving her friends to nibble her pens and taste her ink."

- Jo sells her hair to raise money to support her father when he's wounded in the Civil War, to which Amy replies, "Jo! No! Your one beauty!" (she has such Beautiful EARS!)

- Amy's trials while staying at Aunt March's during Beth's illness:
"If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid, she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful time.  The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself by being as mischievous as possible. He pulled her hair whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking at him while Madam dozed; called her names before company, and behaved in all respects like a reprehensible old bird." heheheeheheh. Amy's a bit of a snot at this point in the book, so I admittedly loved the idea of the bird pecking at her hair and giving her a hard time. ;)

My brief summary of the successful (and unsuccessful) romantic dénouments of the novel:
- Laurie tries to propose to Jo:
Jo: "I never wanted to make you care for me so, and I went away to keep you from it if I could."
Laurie: "I thought so; it was like you, but it was no use. I only loved you all the more, and I worked hard to please you, and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, and waited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me, though I'm not half good enough-" here there was a choke that couldn't be controlled, so he decapitated buttercups while he cleared his 'confounded throat'." poor decapitated buttercups! 

Jo: "I can't help it; you know it's impossible for people to love other people if they don't," cried Jo inelegantly but remorsefully, as she softly patted his shoulder.
Laurie: "They do sometimes," said a muffled voice from the post."
Jo: "I don't believe it's the right sort of love, and I'd rather not try it."

Laurie: "If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
Jo: "No, I can't. I've tried and failed, and I won't risk our happiness by such a serious experiment. We don't agree and we never shall; so we'll be good friends all our lives, but we won't go and do anything rash."
Laurie: "Yes, we will if we get the chance," muttered Laurie rebelliously. aw, poor Laurie!

Meg & Mr. John Brooke:
Mr. Brooke: "I won't trouble you, I only want to know if you care for me a little, Meg. I love you so much, dear."
   Meg hung her head and answered, 'I don't know', so softly, that John had to stoop down to catch the foolish little reply.
  He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled to himself as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand gratefully, and said, in his most persuasive tone, 'Will you try and find out? I want to know so much; for I can't go to work with any heart until I learn whether I am to have my reward in the end or not.
  'I'm too young,' faltered Meg.
   'I'll wait; and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me. Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?'
   'Not if I chose to learn it, but - "
   'Please choose to learn, Meg. I love to teach, and this is easier than German." (hehehee. well OK, if it's easier than German ;) -- Mr. Brooke and Mr. Bhaer both start their little flirtations with the March girls by tutoring them in German. Maybe I need to find myself a German tutor.... ;)

Amy & Laurie:
"Amy took the offered third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar. She rowed as well as she did many other things; and, though she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went smoothly through the water.
   'How well we pull together, don't we?' said Amy, who objected to silence just then.
   'So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you, Amy?' very tenderly.
   'Yes, Laurie,' very low."  Okay, admittedly in the movie and the last time I read the book, I was furious that Amy and not Jo ended up with Laurie. But I find on second reading that their courtship made sense, and that in fact a true tender love grows slowly between them that is fitting for a lifetime together. I definitely don't think it's made clear in the film, so if you're still annoyed, give the book another shot and see how you feel. I also found Mr. Bhaer to be endearing in the novel, whereas I found him a bit stiff and cold in the movie.

Jo & Mr. Friedrich Bhaer:
Jo getting flustered, on thinking she's misread the signs and Mr. Bhaer doesn't love her after all: 
Mr. Bhaer was going away; he only cared for her as a friend; it was all a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better. With this idea in her head, she hailed an approaching omnibus with such a hasty gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were badly damaged.
  'This is not our omniboos,' said the Professor, waving the loaded vehicle away, and stooping to pick up the poor little flowers."  I love this moment - "this is not our omniboos!"

Mr. Bhaer, to Jo, in the mud and the rain: "Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?
  'Oh, yes!' said Jo; and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands over his arm, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he carried it."

A passage I particularly liked:
on Meg's wedding day: "The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine, like friendly little neighbors, as they were.  Quite flushed with excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind, whispering to one another what they had seen; for some peeped in at the dining-room windows, where the feast was spread, some climbed up to nod and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others waved a welcome to those who came and went on various errands in garden, porch, and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower to the palest baby-bud, offered their tribute of beauty and fragrance to the gentle mistress who had loved and tended them so long."

I'll end this hearty post with a series of exchanges between Demijohn (aka Demi) and his parents, when he is being a particularly naughty boy. He reminds me of a little red-haired someone on the west coast, her occasional difficulties in agreeing it is time for bed, and the wheedling and cajoling that has been known to ensue. ;)

Demijohn reappearing at his parents' dinner table, after being told if he was a good boy he could have a 'cakie' in the morning: 
The door handle rattled mysteriously, and a little voice was heard, saying impatiently -
"Opy doy; me's tummin!'
 'It's that naughty boy. I told him to go to sleep alone, and here he is, downstairs,' said Meg.
  'Mornin' now!' announced Demi, in a joyful tone, as he entered, with his long night-gown gracefully festooned over his arm, and every curl bobbing gayly as he pranced about the table, eying the 'cakies' with loving glances."
  'No, it isn't morning yet. You must go to bed, and not trouble poor mamma; then you can have the little cake with sugar on it.'
  "Me loves parpar,' said the artful one, preparing to climb the paternal knee, and revel in forbidden joys.
(He is returned to bed by Meg, who secretly gives him a lump of sugar and tries to send him back to sugarplum dreamland)

"Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressing pleasantly, when the little ghost walked in again, and exposed the maternal delinquencies by boldly demanding, -
   'More sudar, marmar!'
  'Now this won't do,' said John. 'I'll manage him. Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed, as Mamma bids you.'
  'S'ant!' replied the young rebel, helping himself to the coveted 'cakie' and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.
(John, aka Parpar, is determined to hold strong, and forcibly returns Demi to his bed)

Bereft of his cake, defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a strong hand to that detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his wrath, but openly defied papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all the way upstairs.  The minute he was put into bed on one side, he rolled out on the other, and made for the door, only to be ignominiously caught up by the tail of his toga, and put back again, which lively performance was kept up till the young man's strength gave out, when he devoted himself to roaring at the top of his voice. No coaxing, no sugar, no lullaby, no story; even the light was put out, and only the red glow of the fire enlivened the 'big dark' which Demi regarded with curiosity rather than fear. This new order of things disgusted him, and he howled dismally for 'marmar', as his angry passions subsided, and recollections of his tender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat." glad to hear that some things don't change after a hundred and fifty years ;)

Onwards to Suzanne, strawberries in Lebanon, and mysterious romantic suspense! Join me if you will!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

We give and take and go in the incredibly complicated sweetness zigzagging every side.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
On the Road is a tale of wanderlust, friendship, madness, and above all, exploration.  It chronicles the travels of Sal Paradise, both on his own and with Dean Moriarty, a whimsical and provocative character who draws people to him with magnetic and contagious excitement. Sal hitches, walks, and buses it across the country, with sundry adventures along the way.  Dean keeps women on both coasts and fathers a few kids over the course of the novel.  Sal and Dean and the other characters work odd jobs and embrace opportunities when they arise (read: Dean steals a car or two or ten along the way) and romp west from New York City to San Francisco, to Denver, to Virginia, to New York City, and then all the way over to San Francisco and back again.  Wherever Dean and Sal go, parties follow, and no trip is without adventures, scrapes with the police, and a million random acts of kindness and free meals (and booze, and sometimes drugs) along the way. Dean and Sal's last adventure together takes them south to mystical Mexico, and of course hijinx ensue. Dean marries yet another woman, Inez, only to leave her and head back to San Francisco to his second wife, Camille, and two of his children. Sal settles down in New York and finds a woman for himself, and in the end, Dean is a puzzle piece in Sal's life that doesn't fit anymore.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really enjoyed this book. The constant road-tripping made me nostalgic for my fantastic (if often less-than-perfectly-planned) road trips with my sisters.  The descriptions of places I'd been and places I have yet to go reminded me of the awe-inspiring immensity of America, and I felt like jumping into my car and starting off again. I dug (as Dean would say) the jazzy quality to Kerouac's prose, though I think if I continued to read more Kerouac I might find it a bit trying, and his characters felt true and meaningful in a heartfelt, tender sort of way. If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it. I ardently agree that it belongs on a list of classics and it's earned its place in literature.

I want to give you a few snapshots of some of the characters throughout the novel. I underlined and starred passages left and right, so there were many sections I couldn't squeeze in here (all the more reason to read it yourself!) but I think these snippets give you a taste for the flavor of Kerouac's writing and the spirit of his heros.

Dean Moriarty:
  • "He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him."
  • "In the West he'd spent a third of his time in the poolhall, a third in jail, and a third in the public library."
  • "Dean's intelligence was every bit as formal and shining and complete, without the tedious intellectualness.  And his 'criminality' was not something that sulked and sneered; it was a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy."
  • to one of his 2 girlfriends at the time: "Are we straight in the deepest and most wonderful depths of our souls, dear darling?"
  • "Now we must all get out and dig the river and the people and smell the world."
  • "Furthermore we know America, we're at home; I can go anywhere in America and get what I want because it's the same in every corner, I know the people, I know what they do. We give and take and go in the incredibly complicated sweetness zigzagging every side."
-- Dean's also got a bit of a Humbert Humbert thing going on, which gets him into trouble more than once over the course of his journeying with Sal.
-- During one of his later bouts of seeming madness, Sal references that Dean's been reading his Proust all along the train-hitching-trip across America. Good taste, Dean ;)

Sal Paradise:
  • on his first day road-tripping and his epic fail of a start: "I wanted to go west and here I've been all day and into the night going up and down, north and south, like something that can't get started."
  • "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!" this is my favorite sentence in the book.
  • trying to work up the courage to talk to a cute girl on the bus: "You gotta, you gotta or you'll die! Damn fool, talk to her! What's wrong with you? Aren't you tired enough of yourself by now? And before I knew what I was doing I leaned across the aisle to her (she was trying to sleep on the seat) and said, 'Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?'"
  • on leaving his love Terry behind: "We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time."
Dean and Sal:
  • "The car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives."
  • "We know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE."
Remi Boncoeur:
  • a note for Sal taped on the door of his shack in San Francisco:
      "SAL PARADISE! If nobody's home climb in through the
                                                         Remi Boncoeur."
  •  quoting Truman: "We must cut down on the cost of living."Sal and Remi and Dean are totally the original Freegans, and some of their "reclaiming" seems awfully close to stealing... ;)
Marylou (Dean's wife #1, then girlfriend after wife #2):
  • "Marylou was watching Dean as she had watched him clear across the country and back, out of the corner of her eye - with a sullen, sad air, as though she wanted to cut off his head and hide it in her closet, an envious and rueful love of him so amazingly himself, all raging and sniffy and crazy-wayed, a smile of tender dotage but also sinister envy that frightened me about her, a love she knew would never bear fruit because when she looked at his hangjawed bony face with its male self-containment and absentmindedness she knew he was too mad."
Other sentences in the running for title of this blog:
Sal, about Dean: "We understood each other on all levels of madness."
Terry, to Sal:  "If you can't boogie I know I'll show you how."

Sentences I particularly liked:
  •  "The sun went all the way down and I was standing in the purple darkness."
  • "The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream."
  • "We talked in loud voices in the sleeping stillness."
  • "Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries."
  • "People ate lugubrious meals around the waterfalls, their faces green with marine sorrow."
  • "His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light."
  • "On rails we leaned and looked at the great brown father of waters rolling down from mid-America like the torrent of broken souls - bearing Montana logs and Dakota muds and Iowa vales and things that had drowned in Three Forks, where the secret began in ice."
  • "From bushy shores where infinitesimal men fished with sticks, and from delta sleeps that stretched up along the reddening land, the big humpbacked river with its mainstream leaping came coiling around Algiers like a snake, with a nameless rumble."
  • "As of yore I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind."
I'll end with a few of my favorite lines from Dean and Sal:

-- Dean: "What's your road, man? - holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow."

Dean: "Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there."
Sal:    "Where we going, man?"
Dean:  "I don't know but we gotta go."

As Sal elegantly puts it, "we look forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."  I'm off to a day exploring the tourist side of DC and looking forward to my next crazy venture - Tiny Lasses. Join me!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sisters get to share their thoughts, too! This is a family affair, after all.

Diana did a read-along for Confederacy of Dunces. Her thoughts are shared below. Enjoy!

"There are so many things to love about this book. I first read it in college, (extracurricularly), and remembered loving it, but couldn't recall what actually happened to Ignatius as he fumbled about town. Having reread it last week, I would sum it up by saying it's a comedy of errors, a brilliant, Shakespearian endeavor set in the raucous climate of 1960's New Orleans. It feels like a play sometimes, as you see iterations of the same small cast of characters run into each other, first on the street, then in the central bar, then at the movie theater or at an art exhibition. You never quite know where the plot is heading, but rather, each character's storyline weaves in and out of the others', keeping the book just coherent enough to enjoy, but always slightly surprising.

At times the book feels quite racist, and offensive on many fronts, but Toole offers prejudice and mockery with equanimity, and ultimately, his portrayal of Jones, the African American, chain-smoking, underpaid janitor for the Night of Joy, is as a crafty aid to justice, a man who undermines his porn-peddling employer to win the day. The "fairy" Dorian Greene is introduced as a fashion-obsessed foil who eagerly purchases Mrs. Reilly's garish hat, but after he and Ignatius meet again in the French Quarter and engage in a hilarious duel (with Ignatius using his plastic sword to attack Dorian's exquisite sweater), Ignatius decides to champion New Orleans' homosexuals as a political party, with Dorian as the main organizer. Although Ignatius only considers the scheme as a way to one-up Myrna, his quasi-girlfriend-foe-provocateur, the concept still feels to me highly progressive, and although the gays don't end up having any interest in politics, they're depicted warmly and humanely. At one tender moment, the smallest and most badgered member of the gay party, Timmy, shyly asks Ignatius to dance with him.

Since Mere already posted some of her favorite passages, I won't add much more, but just mention some of the relationships I enjoyed: obviously, the central one between Ignatius and Mrs. Reilly, which is mostly combative, and forever frustrating for Mrs. Reilly, who constantly seeks kindness and approval from Ignatius, and never receives it. Towards the end of the novel, Mrs. Reilly says "I want to be treated nice by somebody before I die. You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being." Ignatius bitingly responds, "It's not your fate to be well treated...You're an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you." It's not that Ignatius is really cruel, as he shows concern for Miss Trixie, and gratitude toward Myrna when she rescues him in the end, but his relationship with his mother is poisoned by proximity, a reminder to all of us to get out of the house and make something of ourselves. ;)

I also love the earnestness of several other characters, namely Darlene and Patrolman Mancuso. They're both desperate to prove themselves and gain respect, exhibiting opposite values to those of Ignatius, whose only motivations are foiling Myrna and finding new ways to provoke himself, intellectually or otherwise.

I'll end with a few choice bits of sexual humor, because I can't help but find them outrageously funny. After reading one of Myrna's incendiary letters, Ignatius "mumbled furiously...'This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion,'" which is especially hilarious as we know that Ignatius is a virgin, and he finds Myrna's sexual overtures unseemly and horrendous. He does, however, masturbate frequently, and one of the final chapters of the book opens with the amazing line "Ignatius spent the day in his room napping fitfully and attacking his rubber glove during his frequent, anxious moments of consciousness." Part of the beauty of this work is Toole's willingness to delve both into the reality of his characters' psyche and also their physicality. For me, it's a great loss that Toole did not live to share with the world more of his grand, comedic worldview."

Now accepting readers for On the Road, folks! I'll share your thoughts, too, if you join me :)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ignatius gets nasty if we run outta cake.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Dunces is a comedy twinged with touches of harsh reality, a raucous romp with a small cast of characters. It centers around one Ignatius J. Reilly and his mother, Irene Reilly, and their rather dysfunctional relationship. The story takes place in New Orleans, and the events in the book are set into motion by a minor car accident caused by Mrs. Reilly that sends her grown (yet not self-sufficient) thirty-something son out on the streets looking for work. A series of hilarious circumstances ensue, replete with hijinks, twists, and turns along the way. For a more complete summary, see my notes in the back of the book pasted below.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

The novel's title is derived from this line:

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign - that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."- Jonathan Swift

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you like a bawdy sense of humor and an impeccable vocabulary (and don't mind a heavy dose of comic condescension in a main character) run out and grab a copy. It'll have you ROTFL. (rolling on the floor laughing - text lingo I clearly don't have enough occasion for using.)

Heads up, this post is a bit long - it's a funny book and I want to share it with You, my Devoted Readers. :)

A few thoughts, in no special order... (my sister, Diana, did a read-along, so I may share some of her thoughts in another post, fyi)

Ignatius's first interaction with Patrolman Mancuso, a newbie cop looking to score a suspicious character to drag down to the precinct:
"Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world? If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you, but don't make the mistake of bothering me."

Ignatius, on how he passes his time:
"I dust a bit. In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip." mm, cheese dip!

On the green hunting cap Ignatius sports on the daily:
"When he was talking, he'd pull the earflap down, and when he was listening, he'd stick it up again."

The Reilly house:
"The address that Patrolman Mancuso was looking for was the tiniest structure on the block, aside from the carports, a Lilliput of the eighties.  A frozen banana tree, brown and stricken, languished against the front of the porch, the tree preparing to collapse as the iron fence had done long ago. Near the dead tree there was a slight mound of earth and a leaning Celtic cross cut from plywood.  The 1946 Plymouth was parked in the front yard, its bumper pressed against the porch, its taillights blocking the brick sidewalk. But, except for the Plymouth and the weathered cross and the mummified banana tree, the tiny yard was completely bare.  There were no shrubs. There was no grass. And no birds sang."

A conversation between Ignatius and his mother on the state of his room:
"Ignatius, what's all this trash on the floor?"
"That is my worldview that you see. It still must be incorporated into a whole, so be careful where you step."
"And all the shutters closed. Ignatius! It's still light outside."
"My being is not without its Proustian elements." heh heh
"It smells terrible in here."
"Well, what do you expect? Actually, I find the atmosphere of this room rather comforting. Schiller needed the scent of apples rotting in his desk in order to write. I, too, have my needs." haghaghaghah. rotfl.

Ignatius, to his mother, on going to confession to atone for interrupting his writing:
"Let him know that you have delayed the completion of a monumental indictment against our society. Perhaps he will comprehend the magnitude of your failing."

My favorite character, Miss Trixie, works at Levy Pants. She's super old and quite addled. Here are a few choice bits:
"Miss Trixie was never perfectly vertical; she and the floor always met at an angle of less than ninety degrees."

Ignatius - "She seems to have grown fond of my cap, for she has taken to wearing it rather than her celluloid visor on occasion."

Mr. Gonzalez: "Miss Trixie!"
"Who?" Miss Trixie cried frantically.
She looked down at her tattered nightgown and flannel robe.
"Oh, my goodness," she wheezed. "I thought I felt a little chilly outside."
"Go home right now."
"It's cold outside, Gomez." (nb: Miss Trixie calls Gonzalez Gomez and Ignatius Gloria.)
"You can't stay at Levy Pants like that. I'm sorry."
"Am I retired?" Miss Trixie asked hopefully.
"No! I just want you to go home and change. You only live around the block."

Ignatius, on Mr. Gonzalez sending Miss Trixie home to change:
"I do not understand why she was sent away. After all, we are quite informal here. We are one big family. I only hope that you have not damaged her morale. You may not be surprised to see me appear one morning in my nightshirt. I find it rather comfortable."
"I certainly don't mean to dictate what you people should wear," Mr. Gonzalez said anxiously.
"I should hope not. Miss Trixie and I can only take so much." haghaghaghaghagahg

Btws, Ignatius is enormous:
He lives on a diet of mostly cake (see title of this entry), hot dogs, and more cake. He also makes frequent references to his "valve", a physical attribute which supposedly opens and closes according to his environment, and which dictates his ability to write/create. Ignatius's hands are also always referred to as his paws. heh heh

Ignatius's incendiary friend Myrna Minkoff, at the end of a long letter about a social activist film she's working on:
"Ignatius, I've humored you long enough in our correspondence. Don't write to me again until you've taken part. I hate cowards.-M. Minkoff

P.S. Also write if you'd like to play the landlord." haghaghaghaghah. 

Ignatius, in a letter to a client of Levy Pants, Abelman's, who return a shipment of trousers because they are two feet short in the leg:
"Why? The trousers were sent to you (1) as a means of testing your initiative (A clever, wide-awake business concern should be able to make three-quarter-length trousers a byword of masculine fashion. Your advertising and merchandising programs are obviously faulty.) and (2) as a means of testing your ability to meet the standards requisite in a distributor of our quality product. (Our loyal and dependable outlets can vend any trouser bearing the Levy label no matter how abominable their design and construction.  You are apparently a faithless people." rotfl. 

Ignatius, on his stellar work ethic:
"If I am functioning in the morning, I shall perhaps return. I cannot predict the hour at which I will arrive, but, more or less, I imagine that you can expect to see me." you tell him, Ignatius. what a gem.

Ignatius, to his mother (who keeps her wine in the oven):
"Will you please stop shrieking like a fishmonger and run along? Don't you have a bottle of muscatel baking in the oven?

Mrs. Reilly, aka World's Worst Date, to her potential suitor, Mr. Robichaux, after she already claims she's *heard* Ignatius calling, despite the fact that he is roughly 6 miles away across town:
"Lord, lemme go see if Santa's okay. Poor thing. Maybe she burnt herself on the stove. Santa's all the time getting herself burnt. She don't take care around the fire, you know."
"She woulda screamed if she was burnt."
"Not Santa. She's got plenty courage, that girl. You won't hear a word outta her. It's that strong Italian blood."haghagh. 

Myrna, to Ignatius, in another letter (fyi, Ignatius doesn't believe in sex; Myrna disagrees with his stance):
"Get out of that womb-house for at least an hour a day. Take a walk, Ignatius. Look at the trees and birds.  Realize that life is surging all around you. The valve closes because it thinks it is living in a dead organism.  Open your heart, Ignatius, and you will open your valve. If you have having any sex fantasies, describe them in detail in your next letter. I may be able to interpret their meaning for you and help you through this psychosexual crisis you are having." haghagagagagagagagh. womb-house. amazing.

Ignatius, to Patrolman Mancuso, on whether he's enjoying a depressing and esoteric book (which Mancuso has, in fact, had stolen from him):
"How are you doing?" he persisted illiterately.
"Where is my book?" I demanded terrifyingly.
"I'm still reading it. It's very good," he answered in terror.
"Profit by its lesson.' I cautioned. "When you have completed it, I shall ask you to submit to me a written critique and analysis of its message to humanity!" haghah. I'm going to start asking people to submit written critiques and analyses of the message to humanity for my blog entries. 

In a hilarious side story, Darlene, a girl working in a bar called Night of Joy, decides to put on a strip show with her pet cockatoo, and her boss names Darlene Harlett O'Hara:
The bird ends up attacking Ignatius (which I assume is why it is featured on the cover of my book). What I don't understand is why the cockatoo on the cover of my book is yellow when the book clearly says the cockatoo is rose-colored. Inconsistencies, people! Details, details, details! (sidebar: Few things annoy me more in this world than ill-chosen or poorly designed cover art. Do you know how much power you have in whether a person picks up the book and takes it home, people? Don't screw it up!)

Mrs. Reilly, to Ignatius, on the fact that he's wearing a pirate costume to sell hot dogs:
"Angel was right," Mrs. Reilly cried. "You been out on the streets dressed up like a Mardi Gras all this time."
"A scarf here. A cutlass there. One or two deft and tasteful suggestions. That's all. The total effect is rather fetching."

Hapless Patrolman Mancuso is forced to go undercover in various costumes by his supervisor, and Ignatius finds out that he has become wildly popular with the gays in the French Quarter:
"We love him dearly. He's just fabulous. I'm so glad the police have returned him to the people who truly appreciate him. Some people like him best as the British tourist. That is choice. But I've always preferred his southern colonel.  We've had him arrested twice for making indecent proposals. That's always wonderfully confusing to the police. I do hope that we haven't gotten him in too much trouble, for he's close to our hearts."

Other sentences I particularly enjoyed:
- "Patrolman Mancuso's love for the motorcycle was platonically intense."
- "Her brown wedgies squeaked with discount price defiance as she walked redly and pinkly along the broken brick sidewalk."
- "I was uninjured, and since pride is a Deadly Sin which I feel I generally eschew, absolutely nothing was hurt."
- Ignatius: "Canned food is a perversion. I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul."

Off to job hunt and celebrate the completion of my master's degree. Steer clear of canned food and open up those Valves, people! Sur la rue is up next! Join me if you dare.