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.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Atonement is a story about love, lust, coming of age, and the danger that follows an imagination run wild. The plot's fulcrum is a dinner party held in 1930's England by the aristocratic Tallis family to welcome home their eldest, Leon. We view the events through the eyes of Briony Tallis, the precocious 13-year-old youngest child and wannabe writer. Just before the dinner party starts, Briony accidentallyonpurpose interrupts her older sister Cecilia having a moment (that may or may not be sexual in nature) with Robbie Turner, the son of the family's housekeeper and a longtime friend of the family. Due to a previous mishap, Briony has read a rather personal (and accidentally over-graphic [long story, think two versions of a letter and one not meant for public eyes]) letter that Robbie wrote to Cecilia. With these events set in motion, Briony becomes convinced that Robbie is to blame hours later when a rape occurs on the grounds and her cousin Lola is the victim. Lola was caught unawares and, with the darkness and heightened emotions, is moderately uncertain of (and uncomfortable revealing) the culprit, but Briony's confidence in Robbie's guilt is enough to persuade Lola and send Robbie to prison. The story picks up during World War II. Cecilia is a nurse, Briony has started training to become a nurse (to everybody's surprise), Robbie has been released from prison to fight in the war, Robbie and Cecilia remain passionately in love despite being physically distant, and Cecilia has alienated herself from her entire family, remaining staunchly convinced of Robbie's innocence. There's a stupid and obnoxious twist where you think for a moment that all ends well - Briony plans to confess and atone for her error, Robbie has returned home safely from war, and there's a possibility of forgiveness somewhere far down the line between Cecilia and Briony. BUT THEN NO. JK. It was a miserable lousy lie, and in fact Robbie is dead (sepsis, war) Cecilia is dead (bombing, flood) and Briony is having a stupid birthday party in her 80's with her family, never having published her story of this crazy epic life of hers because the real rapist, Paul Marshall (who was a friend visiting with Leon and was never suspected by anyone except Lola) ended up marrying Lola (I know, TWISTED) and they are very powerful and married so the point is mostly moot except for having ruined Robbie and Cecilia's lives. THE. End. 
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I think I was supposed to love this book. I mean, it received pretty widespread acclaim, and the movie was Oscar nominated, etc. etc. BLAH BLAH BLAH ME ME ME MY MY MY NOW NOW NOW. 

I did not love this book. This was the second time I read it, and I felt exactly the same about it both times. Here's my assessment:
  • First section (dinner party, up to Robbie's arrest): Exquisite. Some of the best writing I've ever read. 
  • War section (Robbie at War, Cecilia as a nurse, fake twist): Tripe. Complete and utter tripe. Writing nowhere near the level of the first section, and it was Painfully Apparent to me that Ian McEwan had not been in World War II, and was writing about an era with which he was completely unfamiliar (not having been ALIVE until 1948, let alone having been anywhere near the war).
  • Final section (Briony's present day, bday party, etc): Total let down. Not just disappointing in the super depressing ending, but in my opinion, made very little sense with the rest of the book, and felt contrived and completely separate from the other two portions of the novel. 
Granted, this is just my opinion. Many people I know love Ian McEwan's work, and that's cool. I haven't read any of his other works, but if anything is like the first section of Atonement, I'm all over it. Otherwise, Count. Me. Out.

I'd like to paint a picture of the characters for you, as it's really a prolonged character study (well, the really great first section is, anyway). Here is the cast of characters, in no particular order:

Briony Tallis - 13 years old at the book's outset, younger sister of Cecilia and Leon Tallis
  • "Briony's was the only tidy upstairs room in the house. Her straight-backed dolls in their many-roomed mansion appeared to be under strict instructions not to touch the walls." I love this image - it makes me think of Toy Story and the toys being told not to step out of line, whether or not Andy was around. ;)
  • "As she saw the dress make its perfect, clinging fit around her cousin and witnessed her mother's heartless smile, Briony knew her only reasonable choice then would be to run away, to live under hedges, eat berries and speak to no one, and be found by a bearded woodsman one winter's dawn, curled up at the base of a giant oak, beautiful and dead, and barefoot, or perhaps wearing the ballet pumps with the pink ribbon straps..." Ah yes, obviously the only Reasonable choice. If Reasonable is defined as INSANELY DRAMATIC. 
  • "It was wrong to open people's letters, but it was right, it was essential, for her to know everything." And they'll ask me, the hardened criminals in prison, what are you here for? Murder? Drugs? And I'll say, Opening. Ben's. Letter. 
Lola Quincey, 15-year-old cousin to Briony, brought into the world of the Tallis household due to her parents' recent divorce
  • "Lola was perfectly composed, having liberally applied perfume and changed into a green gingham frock to offset her coloring. Her sandals revealed an ankle bracelet and toenails painted vermilion. The sight of these nails gave Briony a constricting sensation around her sternum, and she knew at once that she could not ask Lola to play the prince." Briony penned a play for the cousins to put on to astound her family and Leon with her magnificent brilliance. She had hoped to ask Lola to play the prince. But alas, Lola was hardly prince material. This reminded me of when my sisters and I used to act out plays with our cousins like "The Importance of Being Earnest" in our basement with dress up clothes. We always had to vote on who would play the male parts because we had a plethora of young ladies and rarely any boys (cousins or neighbors) interested in participating in our charade. (I know, IMAGINE adolescent boys not wanting to play gallant gentlemen in Oscar Wilde plays!)
  • To the twins, her younger brothers: "You'll be in this play or I'll speak to The Parents." I love the use of the The Parents here - it reminded me of how Dickens refers to the Aged P. Give him a nod, will you? You've no idea how much it pleases him, Pip!
The twins, Lola's younger brothers Jackson and Pierrot, also sent to the Tallis household due to their parents' D-I-V-O-R-C-E
  • "The vulnerable Quinceys were being coerced.  Lola: "'Remember what The Parents said? We're guests in this house and we make ourselves - what do we make ourselves? Come on. What do we make ourselves?'  'A-menable,' the twins chorused in misery, barely stumbling over the unusual word."
  • "There had been trouble enough already, but Briony began to understand the chasm that lay between an idea and its execution only when Jackson began to read from his sheet in a stricken monotone, as though each word was a name on a list of dead people, and was unable to pronounce 'inexperienced' even though it was said for him many times." ahghaghahgahgagh. I love the description of the twins butchering their lines in Briony's play, and her horror at their inability to live up to her expectations.
  • Paul: "'What marvelous names you all have. But how am I supposed to tell you two apart?'   Pierrot: "I'm generally considered more pleasant." ahghaghaghaghghaghg. 
  • Note left for the household: 
            We are gong to run away becase Lola and Betty are horid to us and we want to go home. 
             Sory we took some frute And there was'nt a play." aghagahgagha. I love this so much. 
  • On Paul's assertion that Amo chocolate bars would sweep the nation: "The twins looked at each other. They knew that an adult had no business with sweets. Pierrot said, 'Soldiers don't eat chocolate.'" I want chocolate. Not white chocolate, Real TCHocolate. 
Cecilia Tallis, Briony's older sister, Robbie's lover
  • "She could not remain here, she knew she should make plans, but she did nothing. There were various possibilities, all equally unpressing."
  • "In fact, the thought of packing a suitcase and taking the morning train did not excite her."
  • On Paul: "Watching him during the first several minutes of his delivery, Cecilia felt a pleasant sinking sensation in her stomach as she contemplated how deliciously self-destructive it would be, almost erotic, to be married to a man so nearly handsome, so hugely rich, so unfathomably stupid. He would fill her with his big-faced children, all of them loud, boneheaded boys with a passion for guns and football and aeroplanes." I love the line "fill her with his big-faced children". Find a wench, raise fat babies, and live a good long life. 
Leon Tallis, the oldest sibling and Briony's idol
  • "When they embraced, Cecilia felt against her collarbone through the fabric of his jacket a thick fountain pen, and smelled pipe smoke in the folds of his clothes." Leon plays a small role in the book, but I love this quick snapshot that we get of him via Briony. 
Emily Tallis, the matriarch of the household, and the only adult on the scene when her husband remained in the city "at work"
  • On her migraines: "She felt in the top right corner of her brain a heaviness, the inert body weight of some curled and sleeping animal; but when she touched her head and pressed, the presence disappeared from the coordinates of actual space. Now it was in the top right corner of her mind, and in her imagination she could stand on tiptoe and raise her right hand to it. It was important, however, not to provoke it; once this lazy creature moved from the peripheries to the center, then the knifing pains would obliterate all thought, and there would be no chance of dining with Leon and the family tonight." 
  • "Habitual fretting about her children, her husband, her sister, the help, had rubbed her senses raw; migraine, mother love and, over the years, many hours of lying still on her bed, had distilled from this sensitivity a sixth sense, a tentacular awareness that reached out from the dimness and moved through the house, unseen and all-knowing ... She lay in the dark and knew everything." McEwan's description of Emily's condition is immaculate. 
Robbie Turner, son of the housekeeper, Cecilia's lover, supported financially by the Tallises until the supposed crime and ensuing arrest 
  • "It was an interesting combination in a man, intelligence and sheer bulk." It is surprising how infrequently the two go together, is it not? Is there a scientific reason for this that I'm missing?
  • "He had found out for himself what it was to be in love, and it thrilled him."
  • "There was a story he was plotting with himself as the hero, and already its opening had caused a little shock among his friends."
  • "He had never before felt so self-consciously young, nor experienced such appetite, such impatience for the story to begin."
  • On literature: "It was not the necessary priesthood, nor the most vital pursuit of an inquiring mind, nor the first and last defense against a barbarian horde, any more than the study of painting or music, history or science."
  • "He would be a better doctor for having read literature. What deep readings his modified sensibility might make of human suffering, of the self-destructive folly or sheer bad luck that drive men toward ill health! Birth, death, and frailty in between...Broad tolerance and the long view, an inconspicuously warm heart and cool judgment; his kind of doctor would be alive to the monstrous patterns of fate, and to the vain and comic denial of the inevitable; he would press the enfeebled pulse, hear the expiring breath, feel the fevered hand begin to cool and reflect, in the manner that only literature and religion teach, on the puniness and nobility of mankind..." We are all better people for having read literature. I believe this beyond the shadow of a doubt, and look - research says so, too! For a beautiful response to an Op-Ed challenging this research, read this article on why deep reading makes us smarter and nicer. 
Here's one of my favorite lines from the article: 
"The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love."
  • "He was in love, with Cecilia, with the twins, with success and the dawn and its curious glowing mist."
Now that I've painted you a quick portrait of the characters, here are a few final thoughts: 

On England, the war, and Narnia

The twins and Lola (the Quinceys) are deposited in the Tallis household without a thought, and Briony accepts this, remembering "She had heard it said that the house could easily absorb three children." I loved the image of the house absorbing children, just gobbling them right up, and it immediately reminded me of the first Narnia book when the Pevensies are deposited in the Professor's spacious home and no one is there to pay them much mind.

On the War
Having read 90 of the books on this list, as well as quite a few others, I've come to agree deeply with a sentiment that many writers have expressed, but most memorably (for me) Ernest Hemingway and Louisa May Alcott drilled home: Write what you know. Or, in my opinion, conversely, don't write what you don't know. This isn't strictly literal for me, in that fantasy authors clearly write about a world of their own creation. And yet, there's a sense of deep rooted normalcy and intimate personal connection in some of the best fantasy - the habits and day to day lives of their characters, the physical and sometimes temporal location, and the relationships are all grounded in ideas and concepts that are not unknown to the author. Even dystopias can be extrapolations of the known world, or expanded and exaggerated conceptions of existing fears and trends. My major issue with the middle of this book is that Ian McEwan cannot possibly Know World War II, and while there are relationships and themes that travel through from the first segment of the book, the majority of the second section is centered on the daily life of soldiers and nurses in World War II England and France. At one point, McEwan even has Robbie ponder to himself, "No one would ever know what it was like to be here." Yes, McEwan - see? You got THAT right. No one will know what it was like, Except for people who WERE THERE. So don't try to write what you don't know. I find it offensive, even if you're trying to do present day readers a solid by capturing history. I wrestled with this a little, because some great writers captured pivotal moments in history. But I guess I would make the argument that even if Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities and it's beautiful and epic, it's David Copperfield and Great Expectations where, in my opinion, his true brilliance shines, and that's because it acutely speaks to his own experience, as does Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, as does Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, as does Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, as does Jane Austen's body of work, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. I think the best authors, the real all-time greats, figure out how to tell their stories through the lens of their own experience, and it is this honesty and this reflection of their perception of the world that makes a classic novel so spectacularly resonant. I'm curious to hear your thoughts, though, readers. Do you agree? Can you think of brilliant authors who don't write just what they know

And now for a lovely section --Wonderfully Inventive Words I Wasn't Previously Aware Of;

whorl - a coil or ring, or a complete circle on a fingerprint

ha-ha - a ditch with a wall on its inner side below ground level, forming a boundary to a park or garden without interrupting the view (did you know this is a thing? I was marvelously amused by this.)

supine - lying face upward (I think I knew prone was the converse, but supine was new to me!) (from the Latin, of course, Mommy!)

oasthouse - (also, hop kiln) a building designed for drying hops as part of the brewing process (Look at these - they are also super fun! Like hobbit holes, almost! And what a fun word to say! Oasthouse. Oasthouse. See? A delight!)

pergola - an archway in a garden or park consisting of a framework covered with trained climbing or trailing plants (so pretty! I want one! And an oasthouse, too, please! KTHANXBYE)

fug - a warm stuffy or smoky atmosphere in a room (I would like to say fuggy - like, the bars in Tolkien novels are so delightfully fuggy - can I say that?)

topers - those who drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis

anodyne - not likely to provoke dissent or offense; uncontentious or inoffensive, often deliberately so

harebells - widely distributed bellflowers with slender stems and pale blue flowers in late summer

Passages that pleased me:
  • Briony's imagination: "There were moments in the summer dusk after her light was out, when she burrowed in the delicious gloom of her canopy bed, and made her heart thud with luminous, yearning fantasies, little playlets in themselves."
  • "A woman in a paisley apron was sweeping with demented vigor in front of her house through whose open door came the smell of fried breakfast." Such a fantastic sentence.
  • On the French windows in the sitting room: "Their southeast aspect had permitted parallelograms of morning sunlight to advance across the powder-blue carpet." This reminds me of the line from Jane Eyre - "Daylight began to forsake the red-room."
  • "The truth had become as ghostly as invention."
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this post more than I enjoyed reading the second half of Atonement (which honestly isn't saying much! ;). It is icy and cold here in New Hampshire, and the holidays are a brewing! I'm looking forward to visitors from the Deep Dirty South and mugs of hot cocoa and ooey gooey Christmas sticky buns. 

I'm on to the final ten with Emma! Join me if you care and want to share! Enjoy your December, wherever you are!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kissing is forbidden between us. This makes it bearable.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

The Handmaid's Tale is set in a hyper-Christian dystopian society where nuclear spills and rampant pollution have left only a tiny portion of the female populace capable of reproducing. (I KNOW, right? GREAT START.) The superlucky women able to reproduce are required to serve as 'handmaidens' to the upper echelon of women who are unable to reproduce. The government's justification for this policy is the biblical precedent of Abraham and Jacob taking handmaids to bed when their wives were unable to bear children (hey - if the Bible says it's OK, it's OBviously OK.). When the book opens, the narrator, Offred, is currently a handmaid to a man known simply as 'the Commander' and his wife, Serena Joy. This is Offred's third handmaiden placement (3rd time's the charm!). Offred is allowed to live with the family and provided room and board with the expectation that once a month she participate in a ceremony in which she, the Commander, and Serena Joy spend some Quality Time together. (I think you get my drift. And oh yeah, that's right - Serena Joy is there, too. And not in a fun sort of way.) If Offred becomes pregnant, she will be hailed as a hero and the baby will be given to Serena Joy to raise. If Offred attempts to escape, she will be killed or sent to 'the Colonies' to clean up toxic waste, which is essentially a death sentence. (Great choices, right? GET PREGNANT OR DIE. But no pressure.)  The novel chronicles Offred's time with the Commander and Serena Joy while simultaneously flashing back to Offred's life before the handmaid era. Offred had a husband, Luke, and a daughter, but she lost touch with them in their attempted escape to the Canada, and she doesn't know if they are alive or dead. Over time, Offred develops a bizarre relationship with the Commander, who seeks companionship (and I mean actual companionship, not code for anything sexual - see Scrabble below) from warmer company than his (demonic shrew of a) wife can provide. Offred's small acts of rebellion with the Commander make her more and more confident and lead her to further test boundaries (and violate the law) by engaging in relations (OK, yes, this time I do mean sexual) with Nick, the house's driver. Offred also becomes aware of a counter-revolution movement through another handmaid, Ofglen, but when Ofglen disappears (code for commits suicide), Offred is left with newfound confidence and no connections to the resistance. The book ends with Offred being taken away in a van by 'the Eyes', the government's equivalent of the secret police, and we are unsure whether they are true 'Eyes' or members of the resistance in disguise.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book. I thought I had read it once before, in my AP Language and Composition class senior year, but now I think perhaps we only read excerpts, as several sections seemed totally new to me. [Fun nerd fact: I petitioned the school to let me take both AP Language and AP Literature my senior year because it was the first year they offered AP Language (AND BECAUSE I'M AWESOME LIKE THAT). I gave up a lunch period and ate in French class with my besty, Dee. Best decision ever! I got to read SO MANY THINGS! All of the books! haghahgahghag #suchanerd #sorrynotsorry] My only real complaint about the book was that I was deeply dissatisfied with the ending. I know there are lots of books where authors intentionally leave things up in the air, and they're all, 'aren't I soooo thoughtful and mind-blowing and aren't you just BASKing in my Brilliance?' and this book fell into that trap a little, in my opinion. The ending is totally a big fat question mark, and while in some novels, that feels in and of itself like the answer to the question you've been seeking, this one just felt like she couldn't commit to an ending, happy or sad, so she just went with...nothing! Non-endings are the new ending. They're SO in right now. There's also a weird fast-forward epilogue at the end that's supposedly the notes from an academic conference in 2195, and I just found it confusing and annoying and didn't think it fit with the rest of the book at all. 

That said, I think it's a pretty brilliant novel, and the ideas are striking and provocative. The writing is also exquisite at times, and Margaret Atwood is a fantastic example of the oft-underrepresented in the classical 'oeuvre' highly talented female writer. So feel free to ignore my personal feelings on the ending and grab a copy anyway! It's worth the read, even if you end up agreeing with me about the ending.

This book and I have the same age. That is neat. 
I try to check the copyright date for books before I start them so I know when they were written. (sidebar - have you noticed that if a book is quite old, it's often impossible to tell when it was written from the book itself? The copyright will be much newer than the original print date. We should work on that! How are you supposed to know how old the book is? How can you celebrate its birthday? Hahgahghgahg books don't have BIrthdays, silly!) In any case, I checked when this one was penned, and guess what? It was printed in the same year that this lovely blogstress (YES, I've decided that IS a word) came into the world. It was a sort of bizarre feeling, though I can't really say why. I guess it struck me as odd that someone had enough experience of the world to write a failing version of it just as I was an infant coming into being, hoping for the best from it. 

Allen E. Yeakel, Mt. Joy Anesthesiologist?
My copy of this novel was stamped as coming from the library of Mr. Allen E. Yeakel. I tried googling him, and it seems there is one such person who is an anesthesiologist in Mt. Joy. Perhaps it is he! Do you think he liked the book? Do you think he read it? He kept it very clean, in any case. So thank you, Mr. Yeakel. Thanks for not eating cheese puffs and smearing your grubby paws on the pages. #smallthings #blessed

On Islamic fundamentalists
On the initial revolt that leads to the 'handmaid era': "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time."
I found it striking that already in 1986 the author was referencing laying blame on Islamic fanatics. I know that Islamic fundamentalism has been around for a long time, but blaming acts of terror on fanatics of Islam feels very recent to me, as it only really came on my radar on September 11th, 2001, when I was a sophomore in high school. I guess either Margaret Atwood had a keen eye to the future of international relations between the West and the Middle East, or adults were much more cognizant of the escalating tension than I was as a child. 

Offred, Ofglen, Ofcharles, Ofwarren
Sometimes it takes me a long spell to figure out really simple word blends. Example: the other day (and I'm talking literally, the other day, not ten years ago) I realized that Dunkin' Donuts is 'dunking' donuts. Obviously I've said the name hundreds of times, and bought countless coffees, but never having actually dunked a donut there, it had simply never occurred to me. This happened again when I was working on my sourdough starter which was given to me by my only new friend, and I stopped mid stirstroke and said out loud, SOUR. DOUGH. Dough that is sour. ahghaghahghaghagh.
the simpsons animated GIF

Cue the same scenario as I'm reading this book. 'Offred. What a weird name. It's almost like spelling 'offered' wrong. Ofglen is weird, too. Why do all the handmaidens' names start with 'Of'? So weird. 
OHHHHHHHHH. Of. Like of so-and-so. As in his. Belonging to him. Him being the name of the husband they are handmaid to. 

Common themes in dystopias
Having read quite a few dystopias in my day (that sounds like a Very weird start to a snobby professor's lecture - "I've read Many a Dystopia in MY day...), I thought I would assemble a list of common themes for you. Get. Excited. 

FYI, dystopias are heavily represented on my list, and in my non-list reading choices. Here are the ones I've read so far:

Included on my blog list
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Animal Farm, George Orwell
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • The Stand, Stephen King
  • The Trial, Franz Kafka
  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Not on my blog list, but read during the time I've been blogging
  • Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins
  • Divergent series, Veronica Roth
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
Apparently, we like dystopias. What's your favorite dystopian novel? It's also worth noting that all but one of the books listed above were written in English. So apparently English speaking authors are ParTicularly obsessed with the future devolution of society. (Don't you love my Super random analysis? My quant professors are shouting in my ear, "correlation does Not equal causality!!!!!" ahgahghagaghag #youdontownme  #idonthavetolistentoyouanymore (handsoverears) ) 

Common themes
  • Absence/removal/miseducation - dystopias often center around the removal of something that we used to take for granted, as well as the removal of something explicitly to subjugate or disenfranchise a group or groups of people. In The Handmaid's Tale, women are the dominated group, and they are no longer allowed to own property, work for a living, read, or write. But we don't need a fictional dystopia for that. It reminded me of a line from To Kill a Mockingbird:
"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."
  • Horrible food - apparently, bad food is as much of a prerequisite for dystopias as it is for college campuses across the country (aHem - Haverford). It contributes to the generally demoralizing aspect, and it also speaks to the 'absence' piece above (rationing, scarcity, etc.) The handmaids are generally fed fairly well, though, since they are the BABYMAKERS. I loved the scene where Offred slowly and joyfully eats a soft-boiled egg. My mom used to soft-boil eggs for me when I was little, and she'd cut up the toast in strips and we would crack the shell together and scoop out the innards. We had a bunch of little egg cups in our china closet, and Offred speaks fondly of her 'blue china egg cup' and says, "Pleasure is an egg." I know just what you mean, girl. :0)
  • Suicide preferable to death - dystopias are defined as 'an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one'. One of the first lines Offred writes in her description of her new room at the Commander's house is "They've removed anything you could tie a rope to." Mmmhm, nice and Dark, just how I like my coffee. ;) This is practically a requirement for dystopias - if death isn't desirable, it's probably not dark enough. (Cough Cough - NIGHTLOCK BERRIES, anyone? Peeta? Katniss? Any takers?)
  • Violence/torture as a lesson/control - this hardly needs explanation. What better way to dominate and control a group of people than to torture them any time they step out of line? 
  • Book burning - referenced in The Handmaid's Tale, and the main subject of one of the books on this list. That's right, you guessed it, THE LORD OF THE FLIES! haghagha oh wait. That's not right, is it?
  • Faked news - Oooh, how else can we confuse people and disenfranchise them? We won't let them know what is going on! Ever! Better yet, we'll just Make Things Up. This one comes up quite often, and is deeply disturbing. Can you imagine turning on the news in the morning and thinking to yourself, well, there's a 30% chance that anything they're saying is true. Oh wait, that's Fox News! 
aNd Now for Something Completely Different - more random thoughts, in no real order...

Margaret Atwood makes up this word to represent the collective murder of a person by a group. I suppose group stoning would be the closest real-life referent. In one scene, the handmaids are asked to collectively kill a man for his alleged crimes against women and the state. It immediately reminded me of a chapter in For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was probably the most difficult scene I've ever had to read. A group of villagers collectively (and proactively, as in, we'll kill you before you can kill us) execute their fellow villagers in the Spanish Civil War, by attacking them with common farm tools and pushing them off a cliff, and the scene is grisly and harrowing. Perhaps the most provocative question it raises is this - if everyone participates, who is to blame? 

"All novels are letters aimed at one person" - Stephen King, On Writing
I've always loved this Stephen King quote, and I find it really apt. This line from the book made me think of it:
"You don't tell a story only to yourself. There's always someone else. A story is like a letter. Dear You, I'll say. Just you, without a name."
--"By telling you anything at all I'm at least believing in you, I believe you're there, I believe you into being. Because I'm telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are." Sometimes I forget that a book requires a reader. It is a conversation, and just as you cannot read without a book, a book has no meaning without a reader to read it. 

On smells
One of my favorite things about literature is when it pushes the imagination beyond the literal. Here are some great lines about the smell of something that doesn't explicitly have a smell:
  • "Caddy smelled like trees in the rain." Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
  • On Serena Joy during the ceremony: "The smell of her crying spreads over us and we pretend to ignore it." Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
  • On the commander: "At least he's an improvement on the previous one, who smelled like a church cloakroom in the rain; like your mouth when the dentist starts picking at your teeth; like a nostril." Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
  • "Everything was dead quiet, and it looked late, and smelt late. You know what I mean - I don't know the words to put it in." Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
On Fels
"The high school is old, the stalls are wooden, some kind of chipboard. I go into the second one from the end, swing the door to. Of course there are no longer any locks." The state of disrepair in the bathrooms at the handmaids' training center reminded me of Fels, the high school I worked at in Philadelphia. The stalls in the girls' bathroom were all too short, so you could look over and see the person next to you, and usually only one stall had a working door. There were never any paper towels, and you often had to go scouting if you wanted more than a scrap of toilet paper. I guess Fels was its own little present-day dystopia.

Let's play a GAME. 
The Commander's games of Scrabble with Offred were one of my favorite parts of the book. It's so delightfully unexpected, because you think maybe it will be something mean, or kinky, or bizarre, and then it's... SCRABBLE. (or, as my students at Fels liked to call it, Scramble. I'm gonna call you Murder.) Here are a few snippets from The Scrabble Series:

-- The Commander, to Offred: "I'd like you to play a game of Scrabble with me."

-- Offred's response: "Now it's forbidden, for us. Now it's dangerous. Now it's indecent. Now it's something he can't do with his Wife. Now it's desirable...It's as if he's offered me drugs." No, I'm not into meth. I do Scrabble.

"We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance. Quince. Zygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them in my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious."

-- Offred, imagining them getting in trouble: "Caught in the act, sinfully Scrabbling. Quick, eat those words." These are my favorite lines in the book.

-- The Commander, getting boozy during Scrabble: "Sometimes after a few drinks he becomes silly, and cheats at Scrabble. He encourages me to do it too, and we take extra letters and make words with them that don't exist, words like smurt and crup, giggling over them." heheheehehehe smurt! crup!

Now it's time for Everyone's favorite section - NEW WORDS!

riffle - turn over something, especially the pages of a book, quickly and casually (did you know there's 'rifle' and 'riffle', both verbs? I know, #confusing)

curio - a rare, unusual, or intriguing object (this makes me think of the word mercurial)

peccadillo - a small, relatively unimportant offense or sin (I always think this is an animal - but I guess that's the ARMAdillo ;)

filch - to pilfer or steal (something, especially a thing of small value) in a casual way (hehee, isn't J.K. Rowling CLEVEr? she's so clever.)

semaphore - a system of sending messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code (see image) (I definitely thought a semaphore was part of a dress. Not sure where that thought came from. Thoughts, anyone?)

Passages I found ParTicKelarly Pleasing:
  • On handmaid indoctrination in an old school gym: "Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light."
  • "Where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said, who was in love with either/or."
  • "I hunger to commit the act of touch."
  • "I feel like cotton candy: sugar and air. Squeeze me and I'd turn into a small sickly damp wad of weeping pinky-red."
  • "Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes."
  • "Given our wings, our blinkers, it's hard to look up, hard to get the full view, of the sky, of anything. But we can do it, a little at a time, a quick move of the head, up and down, to the side and back. We have learned to see the world in gasps."
I'll leave you with this line from one of Offred's flashbacks:
"I held the cat up against my chest so I could feel her purring against my throat."

I like to do this with Suzy sometimes - well, she's a little tubby (but NOT CHUNKY, OK, mean vet lady?) so I usually smush my ear up to her chest while she's curled up in a ball. I love to feel the vibrations and the dull roar echoing through her little bones.

I finished this book a while ago, but have had a hard time motivating to post about it. I will dutifully reread Reparation, though I read it once already and can't say I really liked it. But join me if you will! We're almost down to the final ten! Happy Friday, friends!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Persuasion is all about Anne - her unrealized dreams, her goodness, her unique ability to make herself simultaneously invaluable and invisible, and the happy ending she finally gets (and so readily deserves). Anne (with an E - take note! we know of what importance the E is!) Elliot is the middle of Sir Walter Elliot's three daughters. Her older sister, Elizabeth, is pretty, but unmarried (GASP, I know!) and her younger sister, Mary, is of a delicate constitution (at least in her head) and is married to the pleasant, but eminently forgettable Charles Musgrove, with two children. Anne is a paragon of all that is proper and polite, but hers is a dream deferred. Our story begins with Anne and her family forced to let their estate due to declining finances (that be a problem for I, too, Elliots!) and the ensuing shift in geography brings Anne smack dab in front of her old lover, Captain Frederick Wentworth, a dashing sailor. Theirs was a deep-seated, true affection, but their coupling was heavily frowned upon (as is classic in these cases, AHEM, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, comments?) by Anne's family (namely her surrogate mother, Lady Russell) and put asunder. Anne tortures herself for months, wondering if Wentworth could possibly still love her after all this time and all his feelings of bitterness for her being persuaded (GET IT?) by Lady Russell. He confuses everyone (this reader included) by dating Louisa Musgrove, Charles's younger sister, but after an accident (serious, not fatal) Louisa's affections take a little turn (to everyboddy's satisfaction, I might add) in the direction of Wentworth's friend, Captain Benwick. Another confounding factor enters the scene (ahgahghagh policy wonk joke #onlyithinkit'sfunny) in the form of Sir William Elliot (not to be confused with Sir Walter Elliot, Anne's dad), the Elliot's cousin and heir to the Elliot's estate (remember that whole entailing business when it comes to only having daughters? I know, #lame). He is rather keen on Anne, but Anne, ever perceptive, knows that Something Wicked This Way Comes, and her suspicions are proved correct when her old school chum outs Sir William as a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Boy. Classic Austen fare from there forward - agonizing wait, tantalizing moments of almost actualization, and FINALLY, reconciliation and mutual felicity. Wentworth + Anne 4EVA.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I'm pretty sure that I read this book once before, on the recommendation of Casey Johnson, former roomie and CY alum who is possibly the only other person I know who loves Ayn Rand and Jane Austen in equal parts. The book really held up, and it reminded me that while Austen does write about romance, her books are about so much more than just love. She truly deserves to be remembered as one of the greats, which is especially refreshing as she is one of the few females on this blog's list of authors. If you haven't read any Austen, I do recommend grabbing one - I am partial to P and P, and S and S, but this one has winkled its way into my affections, so if you want a brief romp in Austenland, I'll lend you my copy.

Austen's works tend to be strongly rooted in families and the relationships within them. I think, therefore (I AM! jkidding, ahgahghag) that I will provide you with a snapshot of the family (and extended cast of characters), a la (can't get the accents to work on this computer, sorry, French!) my Poisonwood post. Here goes nothing! 

Anne (with an E) Elliot, our tale's heroine
On her family's opinion of her: "Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character,which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way; - she was only Anne." Only Anne! Poor thing! We know she's not Only Anne. She is SomeBody! She was SomeBody when she came. She'll be a better SomeBody when she leaves. (inside Breakthrough reference, sorry!) 

On her appearance: "It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost." Fingers crossed - next year is 29 for me! ;0)

On her luck (or lack thereof): "But the usual fate of Anne attended her, in having something very opposite from her inclination fixed on." aka, ANNE NEVER GETS HER WAY. 

On her love's trajectory: "She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older - the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning."

On music: "She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; no fond parents to sit by and fancy themselves delighted...She had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation of real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world." I must say I feel very lucky to have always had a most appreciative mother and extended family to 'fancy themselves delighted' by my cello playing. It is such a pleasure to know that my playing is pleasing to someone else's ears than my own. (I never learned to play, but if I had, I know I should have been a True Proficient!)

Sir Walter Elliot, Anne's not-so-proud papa
On his obsession with the baronetcy (aka family lineage), and despair at Anne ever marrying: "He had never indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever reading her name in any other page of his favourite work." BURN!

On having to let Kellynch Hall, and deciding whether to grant access to the grounds as well: "I am not fond of the idea of my shrubberies being always approachable." ahgahghaghahg. No one wants Approachable Shrubberies! Perish the thought!

Inquiring after his other daughter: "How is Mary looking? The last time I saw her, she had a red nose, but I hope that may not happen every day." ahgahghagh Mary the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

Mary (Elliot) Musgrove, Anne's younger sister
Indignant at the Musgrove sisters' suggestion that she might not be up to a vigorous stroll: "I cannot imagine why they should suppose I should not like a long walk! Every body is always supposing that I am not a good walker! And yet they would not have been pleased, if we had refused to join them. When people come in this manner on purpose to ask us, how can one say no?" ahghagha. I deserve neither such Praise, nor such Censure! I am not a great reader, and I take pleasure in many things.

Mrs My Husband - Mary is referred to at one point as Mrs. Charles, which I'm sure was fairly common at the time, but it made me want to ralph. I understand that technically if a woman takes her husband's name, she becomes Mrs. Insert Husband's Name here. But I find that so gross. I'm not Mrs You just because we got married! I'm me! Married me! He's not Mr. Insert Wife's name. Brad Pitt isn't Mr. Angelina Jolie. I mean, how ridiculous does that sound? 

Elizabeth Elliot, Anne's older sister
On whether Anne should go or stay: "'I cannot possibly do without Anne,' was Mary's reasoning; and Elizabeth's reply was, 'Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath." Thanks, Elizabeth. Reallll nice. 'Oh, your Father of course may spare you, if your Mother can. Daughters are Never of so much consequence to a Father." 

On why her father couldn't possibly be falling for her impoverished friend: "Freckles do not disgust me so very much as they do him: I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few, but he abominates them." O.M.G. Freckles? disGusting! Hideous! Might as well be a leper! ;)

Lady Russell, Anne's surrogate mother, and the architect of her original unhappiness
In contemplating whether to let Kellynch Hall: "Lady Russell was most anxiously zealous...and gave much serious consideration. She was a woman rather of sound than of quick abilities, whose difficulties in coming to any decision...were great, from the opposition of two leading principles. She was of strict integrity herself, with a delicate sense of honour; but she was as desirous of saving Sir Walter's feelings, as solicitous for the credit of the family, as aristocratic in her ideas of what was due to them, as any body of sense and honest could well be. She was a benevolent, charitable, good woman, and capable of strong attachments; most correct in her conduct, strict in her notions of decorum, and with manners that were held a standard of good-breeding."

The Musgrove sisters ('enrietta and LouWeezer)
"Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove were now, like thousands of other young ladies, living to be fashionable, happy, and merry. Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as we all are by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments." You go, Anne! We ladies of the elegant and cultivated mind must stick together and cherish our difference. We'll get the guy in the end! (#fingerscrossed)

Admiral Croft, the tenant who lets Kellynch Hall (and coincidentally, Wentworth's bro-in-law)
When Anne first visits her old home now that the Crofts are letting it: 
Admiral Croft: "'Now, this must be very bad for you, to be coming and finding us here. - I had not recollected it before, I declare, - but it must be very bad. - But now, do not stand upon ceremony. - Get up and go over all the rooms in the house if you like it."
Anne: 'Another time, Sir, I thank you, not now.'
Admiral Croft: 'Well, whenever it suits you. - You can slip in from the shrubbery at any time." This was so endearing. He is one of the only people who's just plain always nice to Anne, and he's so thoughtful about how she must feel in this delicate situation. Plus, the shrubberies are so APPROACHABLe!

Sir William Elliot, heir to Kellynch Hall
Oh-so-perceptive Anne's suspicions of him:
- "She distrusted the past, if not the present."
- "He was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable." Anne's good opinion once lost is lost forEver! Sound familiar to anyone?
- "Mr. Elliot was too generally agreeable." an OBVious flaw. Nobody's that nice all the time. 

Well, consider yourself introduced to the Elliots and their intimate circle! Now for a few other thoughts...

An Austen Christmas
This picture of Christmas was so delightful. It reminded me of the way Louisa May Alcott describes Christmases in Little Women. Neither family is swimming in riches, neither family has a large circle of acquaintance. And yet, such palpable joy and vibrant energy. Doesn't it make you want to be there?
"Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others." I'll have a cold pie and roaring fire, please!

Disinterested in its true form
My undergraduate thesis advisor (with whom I had a very complicated relationship - think thousands of triangles drawn on my papers to indicate where I "needed better transitions") had a personal mission in life. This mission was to save the world return the word disinterested to its true meaning, and bring an end to the word's misuse. Do you know what it means? Did you guess 'not interested'? WRONG. #fail Just Kidding! No failing here. But it actually means "unbiased, free from selfish motive or interest". The current use has been added to the dictionary (which simply feels like Caving to me #ahem #Literallyusedasmetaphoricallyisacceptednowapparently) but just in case you were curious, the 'unbiased' definition is the original meaning. I thought of it because Austen uses 'disinterested' frequently.

Some classic Austen-isms
Michaelmas - everything always seems to center around Michaelmas in Austen novels. If Mr. Bingley does not return to Netherfield by Michaelmas, I shall Eat my Hat! In case you were wondering, Michaelmas is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel that occurs on the 29th of September. (We are just in time to celebrate! Dig out your Michaelmas decorations!) "It is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and the beginning of the husbandman's year - 'at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year.' In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Lucifer in the war in heaven. (Did You know there was a war in heaven? I didn't. #badChristian) He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence."  Pretty neat, huh? We should start a campaign - #bringingMichaelmasback. Also, I would like to be known henceforth as "protector against the dark of night and administrator of cosmic intelligence." MMkay? Thanks.

Felicity (not as in Keri Russell's 90's show, but as in happiness) - Austen loves to use this term, and it makes me so happy. (haghagh pun not intended) It always makes me think of Felix Felicis.

Mr Wentworth is married (I made free to wish him joy) - Austen LOVEs to play the whole 'same name confusion game' and try to trick characters into thinking their long lost loves are already married. She pulls it again here in the beginning, and for one dreadful moment, we think Wentworth married someone Else! 

Anne(/Austen) on feminism 

"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing." Damn straight, Anne! Women must continue to tell their story and bring their perspective to the world. Here's a great (brief) speech Emma Watson recently gave on feminism at the UN. 

Anne + Wentworth Sitting in a Tree, P-L-A-Y-I-N-G Love Tag. You're It!
I thought it would be fun to give you Anne and Wentworth's romance in a nutshell. Here's their love in snapshots: 

Anne, on their first meeting since the original separation: "It is over! it is over!' she repeated to herself again, and again, in nervous gratitude. 'The worst is over!'... Eight years, almost eight years had passed, since all had been given up. How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness!"

Anne, on the coldness between them: "Once so much to each other! Now nothing!"

Anne, after Wentworth does something kind for her: "She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was; and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her."

Anne, on realizing Wentworth might Maybe may love her: "For a few minutes she saw nothing before her. She had enough to feel! It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery."

I loved the interaction when Wentworth returns for a second (and final time) to Anne's life:
Anne, after Wentworth offers her a seat in a carriage: "'I am much obliged to you, but I am not going with them. The carriage would not accommodate so many. I walk. I prefer walking.'
Wentworth:  'But it rains.'
Anne; 'Oh! very little. Nothing that I regard.'

For some reason, it reminded me of the moment in The Great Gatsby when Gatsby is getting ready to meet Daisy for the first time in a long time at Nick's house: 
"When Gatsby realized what Nick was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. 'What do you think of that? It's stopped raining.'" I love the tenderness in both of these scenes, and the way such a small action related to the mundane can feel immensely charged and ripe with emotion.

Wentworth, to Anne, in a letter: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening, or never."

On the walk that finally leaves the lovebirds together to profess their affections: "There could not be an objection. There could be only a most proper alacrity, a most obliging compliance for public view; and smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture."

Sentences that struck me:
  • "Husbands and wives generally understand when opposition will be vain."
  • On letting Kellynch Hall: "A beloved home made over to others; all the precious rooms and furniture, groves, and prospects, beginning to own other eyes and other limbs!"
  • "We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days."
  • "Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence of the mind of taste and tenderness." Yes, Anne - Autumn IS the best season!
I'll leave you with this line, a classic Austen SO LONG AWAITED nugget of happiness: 
On Anne's school chum, Mrs. Smith - "Her spring of felicity was in the glow of her spirits, as her friend Anne's was in the warmth of her heart. Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth's affection."

I wish you tenderness, felicity, and crisp autumn breezes with the changing foliage of the last smiles of the year. Come visit me in NH if you have the time/inclination, and if you can't, join me for The Hired Help's Saga. Happy fall!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

To live is to be marked.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a Southern Baptist missionary family's transplantation to the Congo, their triumphs and troubles there, and the intricate nuances of the bond with Africa that remains for each individual member after the family disperses. Reverend Nathan Price accepts a mission in Kilanga, a remote part of the Congolese jungle, and brings his wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May along for the ride. Rachel is a prissypants fifteen year old red-blooded American, Leah is a tomboy Daddy's girl, Adah is Leah's twin prodigy with a limp who doesn't speak because of a birth defect, and Ruth May is the cherished baby of the family, just five years old when they set out. Nathan's mission of bringing Christianity to the village is wildly unsuccessful (both because the village already has a strong spiritual religion and because Nathan is an AssHat) but even though the Congolese people take very little from the Prices, the Prices take a great deal of the Congo and the village into themselves. The story takes place in the midst of the fight for Congolese independence from the Belgian government (I know, who knew Belgium was out there being all imperialist and conquistadorlike? I wouldn't have expected it from such a tiny country!) and as the Prices' semi-normal new way of life begins to unravel, so does the country's politics. Ruth May is accidentally killed by a snake laid as a trap by a village elder (complex village hunting beef (AHGAHAGHAHG get it? Beef?), don't even Ask) and after that the Prices just fall apart. Orleanna finally decides to leave her scumbag, abusive, God-loving but super unChristian-acting husband, and strolls off with her daughters. Literally. She just walks off into the jungle. I know, badAss, right? Well, that, and super dangerous. Basically everyone gets malaria or some sort of disgusting parasite, and in the end, Adah and Orleanna go back to Georgia, Leah marries a friend from the Congo, Anatole, and sticks around, and Rachel goes off to marry some rando and live in South Africa. We follow the family for a few more decades, observing the marks their time in the Congo has left on them and the ways in which these marks dictate the course of their futures. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Reverend Price ends up sticking around in the Congo and continues to try to convert people against their will until things don't go too well with one village and he ends up Dead Dead Dead. The End.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. I did feel that there was a noticeable dropoff after the family had dispersed, and that the writing wasn't as eloquent after that point. The coincidence of the Congo struggle for independence with the Price family mission was thought-provoking in the earlier part of the book, but I felt like the second part read more like a not-so-thinly-veiled political statement about the US and other countries' relationship with the Congo and less like the end of a really great novel. Which is too bad, because the earlier section (which really is about 3/4 of the book, so the grand majority) was, in my opinion, exquisite, and could seriously be a classic that stands the test of time. I am glad I was able to educate myself more about the Congo's history (to be clear, I'm referring generically to the Congo because most of the book takes place in the unified Congo, which is later split into the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC) and our complex (if mostly deplorable) history with the country.

In case your African geography is a bit rusty, here's Africa:

The Congo is basically smack dab in the middle, with the DRC in the middle right, and Republic of the Congo sitting on its northwest side. You may also have heard of the country Zaire? That was the DRC after 'independence' and during its roughly 30-year dictatorship under Joseph Mobutu. The history is fairly complex, so if you're interested, here's an overview.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the book, in no real order:

On books informing those that come before and after
In writing this blog, I've often been struck by the seeming logic of one book flowing into the next. I know that this is entirely in my head, as the order of the books on the blog was random and not chosen. Still, I find it fascinating when it feels like I've read one book as a prelude to another, and that they are, in fact, chapters or volumes of the same novel split across planes of time and space. Before I read Poisonwood, I read As I Lay Dying, and in between As I Lay Dying and Poisonwood, I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a book club I'm in with my sisters and two best friends.  For some, these books might seem unrelated - separated by decades, written by authors from totally different experiences and geographies and genders and races - yet, I saw a beautiful symmetry in this trio. Both As I Lay Dying and Poisonwood follow families from the Deep South, and both rotate the narrator with each chapter, cycling through the family. In Poisonwood, the father is the only character not to narrate, and I wondered whether this was to further his vilification (we never see his side of things, so we think the worst) or whether it was too hard to write his point of view for the author, a woman, compared to the other, all female, family members. In Americanah, Adichie delves into race relations and what it means to be an outsider (a Black African, and Nigerian to be precise) in America, while Kingsolver deals with what it means to be an outsider (an American, and a White one) in Africa. So these three books, on the surface unrelated, fed intricately into and out of one another like a harmonious sonata.

And now, a family portrait.  Readers, meet the Prices:

Reverend Nathan Price - man of god (to an obsessive degree), father (to an abusive degree), condescender (to infinity and beyond!)
I love this line from one of the chapters narrated by a daughter and her reference to his tone of voice saved for Neanderthals:
"'I wonder what outlook you might think that to be,' he said to Mother in that same special voice, for bad dogs and morons."
and later...
"'Orleanna', Father said. [Dog peed on the carpet voice.]"

"Father would sooner watch us all perish one by one than listen to anybody but himself." That's Nathan in a nutshell, folks! 

Orleanna Price - mother (devoted even at her worst), fighter (toughest backed against a wall), unifier (as in, the glue that binds)
On her ties with the continent: "Say I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease, from which I have not managed a full recovery."
On returning to America: "Now I am one more soul walking free in a white skin."
On life in the Congo: "The hardest work of every day was deciding, once again, to stay with my family."
On religion: "I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence. I can understand a wrathful God who'd just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of them living in the same house. You wind up walking on eggshells, never knowing which Tata Nzolo is home at the moment."
On her inability to stand up to her husband, at least initially: "If there was still some part of a beautiful heathen girl in me, a girl drawn to admiration like a moth to moonlight, and her heart still pounded on Georgia nights when the peeper frogs called out from roadside ditches, she was too dumbfounded to speak up for herself."

Rachel - teenager (to a fault), supremacist (sorry folks, that's what she is), outlier (as in, one of these Prices is not like the others)
This was my favorite scene with Rachel - so reminiscent of the moment in Sixteen Candles (I can remember LOTS of things) - when her family forgets it's her birthday: "'Oh, it's August twentieth today, isn't it?' I asked several times out loud, looking at my watch like there was something I needed to do... I asked Adah rather loudly, 'Say, isn't today's date the twentieth of August?' She nodded that it was, and I looked around me in amazement, for there was my very own family, setting the breakfast table and making lesson plans and what not as if this were simply the next day after yesterday and not even anything as special as Thursdays back home in Bethlehem, which was always the day we had to set out the trash." ahghag. poor Rachel! HahahaRAchel!
On life in the Congo: "Never in my innocent childhood did I prepare for being in the Congo one dark night with ants tearing at my scalp. I might as well be cooked in a cannibal pot. My life has come to this." haghaghaghag #dramaqueen #whatareafewantshereandtheretearingoffyourskin?

Leah - heroine (both naturally and to serve as foil to Adah), crusader (for better treatment and relations with the Congo, not for Christ), self-appointed receptacle (for all White man's wrongs)
Rachel, on Leah: "Leah tossed him the tie rope and helped him push the boat out of the shallow mud into deeper water. She just slogged right in up to her knees, blue jeans and all, without the slightest regard."
When she strikes out against her father for the first time: "Father went crazy. We'd always wondered what would happen if we flat-out disobeyed him." This reminded me of a time when my sister, Diana, got in some big fight with my dad. He had a temper, though nothing ever really came of it, other than the sheer terror of expectation on our part. She made him so mad that he was running toward her and she slammed the front door so hard I thought the glass would break and she ran, full tilt, for miles. He must have cooled down by the time she got back, because I don't remember any dramatic ending to the story. But when Leah lights out of the house after disobeying her dad, I thought instantly of this moment, and thought how lucky it was we lived in farm country PA, not the Congolese jungle, when it came time for running. ;)

On her early friendship with her future husband, Anatole, a Black Congolese man: "Most of all I want to ask Anatole this one unaskable question: Does he hate me for being white?"

On living in the Congo as a white woman later: "I rock back and forth on my chair like a baby, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my own narrow body. But I also want to be a person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damn it. To scrub the hundred years' war off this white skin till there's nothing left and I can walk out among my neighbors wearing raw sinew and bone, like they do." I thought this was such a poignant moment. I really identified with Leah and her desire to feel the guilt and responsibility of whiteness but move forward with the culture of her husband and family at the same time. In my work with Breakthrough and City Year in Philadelphia, I often wanted to shed my whiteness, or find a way to obscure it. I knew how charged it was, and how difficult it could be for my students and their families to see anything but my whiteness when I walked into a room. Sometimes I still miss my City Year uniform, in all of its droopy pajama-esque unprofessional glory, because I felt like it announced that I was a helper with good intentions first, and a white woman second. Now I have to build that image for myself without the simple luxury of sliding on a red jacket. 

Adah - anomaly (self-defined and actual, in equal parts), twin (and full of other dualities in her personality), prodigy (of all things medical and linguistic)
A few pieces of Adah's prose: 
"To them I am only Adah or, to my sisters sometimes, the drear monosyllabic Ade, lemonade, Band-Aid, frayed blockade, switchblade renegade, call a spade a spade."
"Slowpoke poison-oak running-joke Adah."
Adah, on reading: "When I finish reading a book from front to back, I read it back to front. It is a different book, back to front, and you can learn new things from it."
On the two sides of her nature: "Like Jekyll I crave that particular darkness curled up within me."

Ruth May - youngest (as in the BABY of the family (said in your most obnoxious, cheek-squeezing grandma voice)), most African (as in the most spongelike), fragile (as in has the most tenuous connection to this world)
On the Congolese children staring at her: "I wanted to get up from my hammock and shout something that would flush them up like a flock of scared ducks. I wanted them to play with me."

Orleanna, on Ruth May: "the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after - oh, that's love by a different name. She is the babe you hold in your arms for an hour after she's gone to sleep. If you put her down in the crib, she might wake up changed and fly away. So instead you rock by the window, drinking the light from her skin, breathing her exhaled dreams. Your heart bays to the double crescent moons of closed lashes on her cheeks. She's the one you can't put down." That's me, readers! I'm the BABY of the family - feel free to virtually squeeze my cheeks and rock me by the window!

And now for something completely different - DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS:

Here are a few meta-thoughts in case you don't feel like you've really challenged yourself today.
  • What if the Americans, and the Belgians before them, hadn't tasted blood and money in Africa? 
  • Consider, even, an Africa unconquered altogether. Whoa. I know. Things just got Real.
  • If the world of white men had never touched the Congo at all? Just a little Wednesday night musing for you. Have fun with that hypothetical!
On Methuselah the Mumbler
The Prices inherit a parrot named Methuselah from Kilanga's previous missionary family.
"Parrots are known to be long-lived, and among all the world's birds, African Greys are best at imitating human speech. Methuselah may or may not have heard about this, for he mumbles badly." Mumbler mumbler Mumbler! I can't hear a word you're Saying!

"Sometimes at night he'd startle us when we forgot he spent his lonely nights in the latrine. Believe me, it gives you a queer feeling to sit down in the dark to pee and hear a voice right behind you declare, 'Sister, God is great!'"

On Methuselah being smarter than he looks: "It's one thing simply to call out, 'Sister, God is great! Shut the door!' when the spirit moves him, but he'll also call out 'banana' and 'peanut' as plain as day, when he sees these things in our hands and wants his share." If you feel like Crying tonight, go listen to this story on NPR about Alex the parrot, his brilliance, and his perception of emotions. I just listened to it again to test it and don't Worry Folks, it's still a TEARJerker. That's right, #parrotstoriesgetme

On finding Fahrenheit in other fiction
So I'll reiterate that I assume much of the connections I see are ones that I create for myself, but this line stood out to me from Poisonwood:

"It was neither diabolical nor divine."

It took me a second to figure out why, and then I remembered this line from Fahrenheit 451 - 
"It was neither cricket nor correct."

Here's the line in context - it's from one of my favorite scenes in the book. Montag and the other firemen are trying to burn a woman's house down with her books, but she refuses to leave:
"The men were making too much noise, laughing, joking, to cover her terrible accusing silence below. She made the empty rooms roar with accusation and shake down a fine dust of guilt that was sucked in their nostrils as they plunged about. It was neither cricket nor correct."

The danger of a single story
This post is getting long-winded, so I won't go into all the things I was going to address. One final big-picture thought for the night, from Leah: "I wish the people back home reading magazine stories about dancing cannibals could see something as ordinary as Anatole's clean white shirt and kind eyes, or Mama Mwanza with her children." Probably the greatest thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it humanizes Africa (the Congo, as well as a few other countries later on) and brings to bear the most natural commonalities of life that we share, while still drawing on the larger tensions that are taking place. It reminded me of this TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie where she discusses the dangers of limited storytelling and the power of sharing multiple threads of the same experience. If you have the time, you should listen to the whole thing. It speaks so eloquently to this thought of Leah's.

Words We Will Get Wind Of TogeTher! A continuation of our vocabulary lesson!
vestigial - forming a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable (As in, there are but vestigial remains of that piece of Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie now that I got my grubby paws on it.)
gallimaufry - a confused jumble or medley of things; alt., a dish made from diced or minced meat, esp. a hash or ragout (As in, this post is quite the gallimaufry; or, I'd rather not have the gallimaufry for dinner - I'm feeling vegetarian tonight!)
putative - generally considered or reputed to be (As in, Hillary Clinton is the putative Democratic contender for the 2018 presidency, despite Meredith's apathetic stance toward her.)
pirogue - a long narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, esp. in Central America and the Caribbean (As in, has anyone seen my pirogue? I carved it from my favorite Tree and now I can't find it ANYWHERE!)
pullet - a young hen, esp. one less than one year old (As in, Suzy loves a good pullet for a snack)
vermifuge - an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms (As in, I could use a good vermifuge to attack the hookworm I picked up last year. (NB - HYPOTHETICAL. I don't have hookworm.))

Words that Rachel *Thinks* are Words but Are Not Actually Words (or they do not Mean what she Thinks they Mean):
splectacular - Isn't this post splectacular fun to read?
anomalous - I wish I could write to him, but this author published his book anomalously.
civilrous - Boys just aren't civilrous anymore - they don't even hold doors for girls. 
feminine wilds - Sometimes I have to rely on my feminine wilds to get the Dunkin Donuts man to give me enough sugar in my coffee.
monotony - Some couples have trouble with fidelity - they just aren't meant for monotony.

Sentences that stood out:
  • "Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened."
  • One of Adah's singsong phrases: "Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink."
  • Orleanna, on the Congo: "The gloom, the humidity, the permanent sour breath of rainy season all bore down on me like a bothersome lover."
  • "Six months is a long time for a family to tolerate itself without any outside distractions." you're telling me! I love my family, but six months of Just us together? Whew. 
  • "Our mother used to have mystery under her skin."
Congratulations if you've made it this far! You've done a splectacular job putting up with my gallimaufry. I'll leave you with at least a vestigial bit of your night! Here's a final thought:

"To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history."

This is the line I pulled the title from. I loved the eloquence of it and I like the heft of it. So readers, live and let yourself be marked. Acquire your own story, but make sure everyone knows all your stories, not a single version. And celebrate your life and the lives of those that intersect with yours and rejoice in knowing that history will be different because you lived. 

I wish you all happiness, leaves that change color, and warm beverages with a brisk wind at your back. Fall approaches! Perhaps I can PERSUADE you to join me for my next challenge, Influence by Dane Boston? That's not quite right... is it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My mother is a fish.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
As I Lay Dying is the story of a family's ill-fated attempt to bury their matriarch, Addie. In what feels a bit like a blighted game of Oregon Trail, the Bundren family tries their level best to transport Addie's body ("just produce a corpse, roll er old bones down to the office") to Jefferson, Mississippi, to be buried near her ancestors. The trip includes (but is by no means limited to) a broken leg, a barn fire, stalking buzzards, failed abortion attempts, a couple of drownded mules, an unsuccessful attempt to ford a stream, and quite a few confused and confounded neighbors who are Just Trying to Help, OK Bundrens? In the end, Addie is successfully planted six feet under and Anse Bundren, her husband, happily purchases himself a brand spankin' new set of teeth. Oh, and he seems to find himself a new lady in no time flat. SOOPRIZE! Please feel free to review the complex notes that I've included below for your perusing pleasure.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

My attempt at a Bundren family tree -->

Here are some of my favorite tidbits:
"Addie - titular corpse"
"Anse - no teeth"
"Cash - broken leg - same one twice"
"Jewel - different dad?"
"Dewey Dell - preggo; asked for abortion meds; no dice"
"Lafe - DD's baby daddy?"
"Dewey Dell - girl"
"Jewel - boy"

This was an interesting reading experience. I'm not sure I would say that I enjoyed the book, although I am glad I read it. I found it more coherent than The Sound and the Fury, and in reading the plot summary online after writing mine, was pleased to see that I had, in fact, captured all the salient points. That said, I consider myself a smart reader and rather a literary detective (86 classics in, fankuberymuch), and I was still only about 75% sure about what happened. So I feel for the less experienced/less dedicated reader who may feel only 25% sure of the sequence of events! The story is told in semi-stream of consciousness (which we all know is my FAVE) and each chapter features a different narrator (keeps you Guessing!). The one thing it has going for it is that the order is pretty much chronological, so at least we keep moving forward for most of the novel, rather than jumping about (and bursting into song). At least the Bundrens, unlike Billy Pilgrim, have not come unstuck in time. 

Here are a few of my thoughts, in no real order...

Title Error
The title is apparently a reference to Homer's (or you know, whoever Homer was or wasn't, or whatever collection of people constitute 'Homer') Odyssey. How (or whether) exactly we're supposed to know that is unclear. That said, I think the title is misleading - Addie, the titular corpse, is dead for 95% of the book. So I'd like to vote for a name change to As I Lay Dead. Who's with me?

Pa/Anse Bundren
First of all, let's just take a moment and mourn the fact that the name Anse hasn't lasted through the ages. OK, moment over. Anse was my favorite character because he's a 'love to hate' kind of guy. He's basically worse than useless without his wife, which is simultaneously adorable and infuriating. Here are a few snippets to paint the picture of Anse:

- "Pa leans above the bed in the twilight, his humped silhouette partaking of that owl-like quality of awry-feathered, disgruntled outrage within which lurks a wisdom too profound or too inert for even thought." Whenever someone is described as humped, I'm reminded of a time when my best friend Dennis and I went to Boathouse Row together. We got separated, and I didn't have my phone, so as twilight set in, I frantically planned how I would provide a description of Dennis to the authorities. In telling him this story later, he said he did the same thing. Here's how our recap went:

Dennis: So how were you going to describe me?
Me: Tall, about 5'11, with tight capri jeans, sandals, and short dredlocks, African-American, with a tight T-shirt. How would you describe me?
Dennis: Well, I was going to say you have glasses, you're wearing running clothes, and you hunch a little.
Me: Oh, awesome. So they would be looking for a stylish gay dude and a HUNCHBACK.

- "He touches the quilt as he saw Dewey Dell do, trying to smoothe it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries to smoothe it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh." I loved this image, particularly the depiction of Anse's hand as a claw. It's simultaneously tender and amusing, which is basically the book in a nutshell.

-"Anse meets us at the door. He has shaved, but not good. There is a long cut on his jaw, and he is wearing his Sunday pants and a white shirt with the neck-band buttoned." Whenever I read older books, I am struck by how similar things are after decades of difference. If a man's wife died today, we still might expect him to show up clumsily shaved with a cut on his face. 

-"'If ever was such a misfortunate man,' pa says. He looms tall above us as we squat; he looks like a figure carved clumsily from tough wood by a drunken caricaturist."

- Upon finally arriving in Jefferson with the body: "We forgot our spade, too."

- Peabody, the doctor, when he finally treats Cash's broken leg: 
"God amighty, why didn't Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw? That would have cured it. Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured a whole family...Where is Anse, anyway? What's he up to now?
  'He's takin back them spades he borrowed.'
'That's right. Of course he'd have to borrow a spade to bury his wife with. Unless he could borrow a hole in the ground. Too bad you all didn't put him in it too." Haghaghahgah. This was my favorite line in the book, because it encapsulates everyone in the community (and likely the reader)'s feelings about Anse and his attitude toward his family.

Let's do it Miss Havisham style
Addie is buried in her wedding dress, which made me think of crazy old Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Granted, it was probably common to be buried in your wedding dress, as it was likely the nicest piece of clothing many people owned. It still just felt delightfully dramatic. In Addie's only chapter, she shares this snippet of her father's philosophy: "The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time." Charming, right? Dad of the year!

My mother is a fish.
"Pa shaves every day now because my mother is a fish." Vardaman, the youngest child, starts saying his mother is a fish because he kills a fish the same day his mother dies. I think (big emphasis here on I think, not I know) that this is a metaphor for death; that the boy processes death in the only way he knows how, which is to compare a once living thing (his mother) to a now dead thing (the fish). I could be WAY off base here, though, so don't quote me. ;) If you've read this one and you have other ideas, please share!

More sayings I want to add to my vocabulary:
- "We wouldn't discommode you." The Bundrens love to say this to the neighbors. As in, we're traveling around with this rotting corpse and it stinks and we don't have any money and we're pennypinchers anyway but PLEASE, REally, we're OK, we don't need your help. I wouldn't want to discommode you!
- At one point, we flash back to Jewel falling asleep all the time at work on the farm. His brother's suspect that "rutting" is the cause. After he is gone many nights for very long periods of time, Darl says, "She's sure a stayer. I used to admire her, but I downright respect her now." I found this hilarious and gross all at once. That said, I think we should all start guessing that 'rutting' is the problem whenever anyone is gone too long. Oh, Bob didn't come back from the grocery store yet? Rutting. Definitely rutting. ;) 

The novel opens with Cash constructing his mother's coffin as she is passing away. There are many different depictions of the sound and the bizarreness of him working on it right outside her window. This is one of my favorites lines: "Pa goes to the house. The rain rushes suddenly down, without thunder, without warning of any sort; he is swept onto the porch upon the edge of it and in an instant Cash is wet to the skin. Yet the motion of the saw has not faltered, as though it and the arm functioned in a tranquil conviction that rain was an illusion of the mind."

When a word is just a word
Addie's chapter includes some philosophizing on words and their meanings. I liked this piece on the relevance (or irrelevance) of naming: "He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn't need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear. Cash did not need to say it to me nor I to him, and I would say, Let Anse use it, if he wants to. So that it was Anse or love; love or Anse: it didn't matter." What do you think? Do we need the word love to feel love? 

The Literary Detective is On The Case!
As I mentioned previously (and as my sister can attest) this book involved a good deal of guesswork. I was particularly proud of myself for figuring out Addie's affair, and was struck by this sentence describing its end: "Then it was over. Over in the sense that he was gone and I knew that, see him again though I would, I would never again see him coming swift and secret to me in the woods dressed in sin like a gallant garment already blowing aside with the speed of his secret coming."

Mildly mystifying maternal math
At one point, Addie says, "I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel." I know that means she was trying to make up for having an illegitimate child, but I'm Prrettty sure that's not how it works, Addie. ;)

The foot that was once purple has now turned a sort of blackish in color...
"Cash's leg and foot turned black." Poor Cash gets the raw end of the deal with his broken leg to begin with (during the ford-streaming - btw did I mention Cash can't swim? I know, #brilliantplan) but then his super smart family decides it's a great idea to try to set his leg by whipping up some homemade cement. How could that plan possibly go wrong? 

In Which We Learn Some New Words:
brogans - a course, stout leather shoe reaching to the ankle [As in, do my brogans go with this prom dress, or should I have gone for the wedges?]

peakling - jkidding - I just looked this up and it's a Faulknerian fantasy word. Don't bother adding it to your vocabulary!

hale - (of a person, esp. an elder one) strong and healthy [As in, Gandalf is such a hale fellow that he can still take down a Balrog now and again! haghaghagh #tolkiennerd]

scoriation - a sloppily cut groove, furrow, or trench, characterized by the presence of refuse material from which it was cut [As in, did you see the scoriation on that tree in Fern Gully? The Hexus must be coming!]

reeves - ropes threaded through a ring or other aperture [As in, not even the reeves on the fence could keep Rocinante from galloping away from Don Quixote!]

stanchion - an upright bar, post, or frame forming a support or barrier [As in, maybe a stanchion would have helped that miserable attempt to ford the stream.]

proscenium - the part of a theater stage in front of the curtain [As in, Judy should stop leaving her cupcakes on the proscenium or the actors will all trip when the show starts!] 

Passages I Found Particularly Pleasing:
  • "Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks."
  • "He spits with decorous and deliberate precision into the pocked dust below the porch."
  • "I enter the hall, hearing the voices before I reach the door. Tilting a little down the hill, as our house does, a breeze draws through the hall all the time, upslanting. A feather dropped near the front door will rise and brush along the ceiling, slanting backward, until it reaches the down-turning current at the back door: so with voices. As you enter the hall, they sound as though they were speaking out of the air about your head."
  • "The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a crest of thunderheads; the light has turned copper: in the eye portentous, in the nose sulphurous, smelling of lightning."
  • "Before us the thick dark current runs. It talks up to us in a murmur become ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled monstrously into fading swirls travelling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into light slumber again."
Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.
You probably know by now that I enjoy literary discussions and philosophies on sanity. Here's another to add to the bunch: "Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It's like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it." Pretty sure I'm somewhere smack dab between pure crazy and pure sane. ;)

See you later, you cwazy cupcakes! And now for your entertainment I present... Cupcake Bargaining.

Onwards to the Toxinlumber Torah! Happy August, friends. :)