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, June 22, 2017

Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [did you remember he used a pseudonym, friends? I did not.]

Spoiler Alert: Plot Poem
Alice down the rabbit hole [quite litrally, we mean]
Too tall, too small; rinse, repeat. Is this all a dream?

Cries her way to Wonderland with wild menagerie.
A caucus race is thus begun; the winner is... EVERYONE!

MaryAnn the rabbit messenger hunts for gloves and fan
Curious Alice drinks mystery drink just because she can.

Off she grows to such great heights, stymied one again
Arms in the window, lizard in the chimney; Bill's not feeling too zen.

Hookah-smoking caterpillar with mushroom domicile
Quizzles existentially, he brooks no denial.

Fish footmen for duchesses, pepper, babies, and pigs
Meetings with the Cheshire Cat; an airy grin he rigs.

Tea with a Hatter, humor a Dormouse, six the clock will chime
Riddles and rudeness, twinkles and treacle, buttering away the time.

Flamingo mallets and hedgehog balls, a game of queer croquet
Tempestuous duchess, a hotheaded Queen, "off with her head!" she'll say!

Mock turtle songs and lobster quadrilles, jury's out - who stole the tarts?
Important evidence (of nothing) is given to please the Queen of Hearts.

Larger, now, the girl awakes to think on Wonderland
Real or imagined, dreamed or not, it was most awfully grand.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Dear Blobbists, 
   Did you like my rhyming? Alice connoisseurs may have noticed I omitted the Looking-Glass from my plot poem. If I'm being honest, I preferred the first volume by a teensy bit, and I also got tired of rhyming. ;)

If you have not read these little works, find a copy and devour them. They're bite-sized, and marvelous! Ostensibly they're children's books, but like all the best children's books, they're full of nuance for adults and witty puns and jokes no child would get. OK. Alice PSA Over!

If you're still reading (BECAUSE YOU ALREADY READ THEM, or because you ARE PLANNING TO REALLY SOON) (LIKE, TOMORROW, MAYBE) then please proceed.
I've decided to continue my new section, since this one had several...
Referents and Reverberations (I'll tell you a quote from this book, and I'll tell you a quote from another book from this blob that it reMinded me of. Sound like fun? Tbqh, I don't care what you think, the section is happening anyway. But #fingerscrossed you find it fun.)

Alice quotes:
"How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? But if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"

"I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then."

Guesses, anyone? Hint: it's a Meredith FAVORITE, and an oft-referenced tome...

"So how, then, searching for our thoughts, our identities, as we search for lost objects, do we eventually recover our own self rather than any other? Why, when we regain consciousness, is it not an identity other than the one we had previously that is embodied in us? It is not clear what dictates the choice, or why, among the millions of human beings we might be, it is the being we were the day before that we unerringly grasp."

One MILLION pounds sterling to anyone who guessed PROUSTY-proust. What's that? OH, you want to be super-snooty and guess which VOLUME of Proust? OK, fine. Hint: there are seven. 

I'm thinking of a number between one and seven.... it's... THREE! The Guermantes Way. (Which, if you're a true blob fan, you might remember I accidentally read BEFORE number two. An honest mistake! If you're a FRENCH speaker, you most probably guessed it when you saw the Picture.)

OK, moving on to the next Alice quote(s):
'He said he would come in,' the White Queen went on, 'because he was looking for a hippopotamus. Now, as it happened, there wasn't such a thing in the house, that morning.'
'Is there generally?' Alice asked in an astonished tone.
'Well, only on Thursdays,' said the Queen."

lolz. OBVIOUSLY only on Thursdays, silly! and then this nugget:

"Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Together, these reminded me of someone who also had a lot of thoughts involving breakfast...

"If I start thinking about something which didn't happen I start thinking about all the other things which didn't happen. For example, this morning for breakfast I had Ready Brek and some hot raspberry milk shake. But if I say that I actually had Shreddies and a mug of tea* I start thinking about Coco Pops and lemonade and porridge and Dr Pepper and how I wasn't eating my breakfast in Egypt and there wasn't a rhinoceros in the room and Father wasn't wearing a diving suit and so on..."
*But I wouldn't have Shreddies and tea because they are both brown.

So which was it, folks? A hippopotamus or a rhinoceros when you were eating breakfast? It IS Thursday, after all!

And for our last installment in this section, this quote from Alice:
'If that there King was to wake,' added Tweedledum, 'you'd go out - bang! - just like a candle!'
'I shouldn't!' Alice exclaimed indignantly. Besides, if I'm only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?"

Which put me in mind of this quote:

"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!"

I gave you a picture clue, so I'm not telling for this one. Look it up if you must! ;)

How are we feeling, readers? Do you need a stretch break? Why don't you do a little 'cat/cow', get your mail, or grab a cuppa, and then roll on back. Here's a silly photo to cleanse your neural palate:

Aren't cats simply the silliest creatures? Susan has taken to slumbering in my closet, because it has the lumpiest clothes. Onward we go!

A new section I've decided to call "Things which were simply a part of my growing-up vernacular, and which I only now realize are from Wonderland"

Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never ever ever ever jam today. I really think I thought this was just a thing my mom said sometimes. I had completely forgotten that it was from Alice, and I'm not sure I knew there was a real song! Mom, were you quoting her?

stuffing the Dormouse into the teapot, and stories full of treacle

Alice - pudding: Pudding - Alice. now you've been properly introduced, so of course you can't EAT the pudding!

these lines:
'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax - 
Of cabbages - and kings - 
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings.'

And now for some random thoughts...

Wit and Wordplay
Carroll/Dodgson has the MOST fun with the English language in these books. I don't know if I've ever read a book that took such pleasure in my native language, and it was truly a joyful experience. One of my favorite moments in the book is this one, which comes before the caucus race and when the animals (and Alice) are all sopping wet. The mouse jumps to the rescue:

'This is the driest thing I know.' "William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English..." lololololol. Get it. DRY? dry? (slaps knee and guffaws)

Who's your friend who likes to play?
Perhaps the only thing more fantastic than Carroll's delightful wordplay is his vivid imagination. One of my favorite creatures was the 'Snap-dragon-fly':
'Look on the branch above your head, and there you'll find a Snap-dragon-fly. Its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy.'
 'And what does it live on?' Alice asked.
'Frumenty and mince-pie,' the Gnat replied: 'and it makes its nest in a Christmas-box.'

It reminded me of BING BONG from Inside Out! (see video for more on Bong, Bing)

Tick tock, tick tock, Hook's afraid of an old dead clock...
Time is a frequent topic of discussion in the books, and there's even one section that had a pretty trippy 'Arrival'-style discussion of the future happening in the present and such. Here's my other favorite time-related quip:

The Mad Hatter: 'I dare say you never even spoke of Time!'
 'Perhaps not,' Alice cautiously replied; 'but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.'
'Ah! That accounts for it,' said the Hatter. 'He won't stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o'clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!" are you on good terms with Time, blobbists? What time would you make it, if you could?

What are you, after all?
Many of the creatures Alice encounters ask her what she is, and she is accused of being a great many other things (my favorite of which is a serpent). One creature asks her: 

'Are you a child or a teetotum?' and if, at this moment, you are thinking to yourself, WHAT, praytell, is a teetotum, and/or did Monsieur Carroll make that up? 

THIS (see left) is a teetotum. It is apparently a top. Not necessarily twelve-sided, though this one is, but generally containing some sort of numbered sides to determine a winner. 

Please let me know if you knew this word and I will give you BONUS POINTS ON THE NEXT QUIZ. 

This exchange reminded me of one of my favorite moments in the movie 'Stranger Than Fiction', when Dustin Hoffman says, "Aren't you relieved to know you're not a golem?"

And if you are NOW wondering what a golem is,
"In Jewish folklore, a golem (/ˈɡoʊləm/ GOH-ləm; Hebrew: גולם‎‎) is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (specifically clay or mud)."
OK everyone. Time for that POP QUIZ! (No, I didn't forget that you Might have gotten bonus points for knowing teetotum!)

Real or not real? Are the items below references to real things, Carroll-isms, or a bit of both?

jabberwocky - Carroll-ism, though now a term that extends beyond Alice, imho. Also, the only poem I know in full (don't worry, family, I've STOPPED trying to rememberize the Raven)

Lory - a bit of both. Here are side-by-side pictures of the Lory in Alice and a lory IRL.

caucus race - real words, turned into Carroll-ism. According to CLW (or LC) "all participants have to run in circles until an arbitrary end is called and everyone is declared a winner". my kind of race.

treacle - I honestly didn't know if this was a real thing. Apparently it's just the British term for molasses. 

un-birthdays - Carrollism [BUT CAN THEY BE REAL THO] - "three hundred sixty-four days when you might get presents because it is Not your birthday." So obviously we should be doing this. 

Clap backs from Wonderland
In honor of the sassiness of these novels, I am including a new section. For those unfamiliar with the term, here is a definition of 'clap back': 

Frog footman:
"How am I to get in?" asked Alice again, in a louder tone.
'Are you to get in at all?' said the Footman. 'That's the first question, you know.'"

The Rose, in the garden of live flowers:
"This sounded a very good reason, and Alice was quite pleased to know it. 'I never thought of that before!' she said.
 'It's my opinion that you never think at all,' the Rose said, in a rather severe tone."

The Mad Hatter and the March Hare
"You should say what you mean.'
'I do.' Alice hastily replied; 'at least - at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know.'
'Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter. 'Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!'

'Really, now you ask me,' said Alice, very much confused, 'I don't think--"
'Then you shouldn't talk,' said the Hatter.'

The Dormouse
"'I wish you wouldn't squeeze so,' said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to Alice. 'I can hardly breathe.'
 'I can't help it,' said Alice very meekly: 'I'm growing.'
'You've no right to grow here,' said the Dormouse.
'Don't talk nonsense,' said Alice more boldly: you know you're growing too.'
'Yes, but I grow at a reasonable pace,' said the Dormouse: 'not in that ridiculous fashion."

"It's no use your talking about waking him, when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real.'
'I am real!' said Alice, and began to cry.
'You won't make yourself a bit realler by crying."

Humpty Dumpty
'What does the name Alice mean?'
'Must a name mean something?' Alice asked doubtfully.
'Of course it must,' Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: my name means the shape I am - and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost."

The Red Queen
'Do you know Languages? What's the French for fiddle-de-dee?'
'Fiddle-de-dee's not English,' Alice replied gravely.
'Who ever said it was?'

Phrases we should all say more often:
  • As sure as ferrets are ferrets. so many possible uses!
  • Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder what you're at! that's the Suzuki song, right?!
  • I'm doubtful about the temper of your flamingo. I'm gonna start saying this to everyone.
  • 'I shouldn't know you again if we did meet, you're so exactly like other people.' this seems like a great option after a failed first date, or perhaps to an ex, upon conscious uncoupling.
  • You might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch! a possible alternative to 'Who is John Galt?'
Well, I certainly hope you've enjoyed this rollicking romp through Wonderland, and (final plug) if you haven't read these because you "think you know the story from pop culture", GO READ them, plzzzz.

I will leave you with my three favorite quotes.

"We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near."
I often feel like an old child, who constantly frets to find her bedtime near! Do you, blobbists?

The Unicorn, to Alice:
"This is a child? I always thought they were fabulous monsters. 
If you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?"
Such a great exchange. If you believe in me blob readers, I'll believe in you! Deal?

"In that direction lives a Hatter: and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad.'
 'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice. 
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here."

Enjoy your late summer evening, watch the temper of your flamingo, clap back when you can, and only eat jam TOMORROW and YESTERDAY. Have fun among the mad people, from one mad person (and one mad cat) to another. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Diana's Thoughts on "Ceremony"

As promised, here are Diana's thoughts on Ceremony:

This book was nothing like I thought it would be. When I looked at the list of upcoming books to try to identify ones I might want to read along with you, I saw the title "Ceremony" and the name Leslie Marmon Silko. The "silk" part of her last name made me think of luxurious cloth, and coupled with the title I had an idea that the book would be something delicate, feminine, perhaps about a family saga or a marriage (the first kind of ceremony that came to mind). So...I guess this should be a reminder to all of us not to judge a book by its cover (or by the imagery evoked by the title and author alone).

I, unfortunately, did not like this book, did not find it to be feminine or delicate, and did not discover within it a steady narrative of any kind. You could hardly even say that it's about any character at all -- in my opinion Tayo is just a stand-in for Indian people (again, I'm following Silko's lead here with the terminology), and I never connected with him because he's just a composite of emotions and experiences, completely overshadowed by Silko's love affair with nature and her native New Mexico and the web of origin stories/poems she throws in throughout the book. I think the whole thing would be more successful as a blend of short stories and poetry, but maybe that's just my frustration with modern novels talking.

In any case, I found this book brutal, confusing, and occasionally tender, but the moments when I was able to appreciate a thought or a gem of writing were few and far between. At the start, I thought I might be able to get behind Tayo as an underdog, as a castoff within his own family, as someone who made it back from the war when his best friend and uncle did not, however, as the pages went on, I found the rest of the book almost impossible to read. Silko stolidly refuses to help the reader understand Where or When in the story we are, as paragraphs begin willy nilly with such lines as, "He was sitting in the sun outside the screen door when they came driving into the yard." Not only did I not know where geographically the action was taking place, I didn't even know what time it was. I suppose that was partly by design, as the journey Tayo embarks on is more psychological and spiritual than it is physical, but considering that Silko is also obsessed with the land and the flecks of color on the trees and the gulleys and the stone etc. etc. etc. I might have thought she would help us figure out the geography a little more.

I suppose I could say that I learned a little more about the perspective of American Indians from this book than I knew before, but what I really wanted by the end was to know what Leslie Marmon Silko thought, directly, emotionally, not through this veil of poems and confusing plot and characters who never became real to me. I wish I could be less negative, but I think it just comes back to the fact that I read books to enjoy characters going on adventures or solving mysteries or revealing universal truths, but this book was not about characters; it was about ideas like mistrust and betrayal and loss and it was just too fragmented and confusing for me to piece it together to appreciate it. So, I'm sorry Leslie Marmon Silko; I'm going to have to find something else to read if I want to expand my perspective on American lndian life."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Once there had been a man who cursed the rain clouds, a man of monstrous dreams.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
I've decided to carry on the tradition of summarizing in poem form. This is the story of Tayo, a young Indian man who has recently returned to the Laguna reservation after fighting in WWII. (I recognize that there are many different terms preferred by indigenous people of America, but for this post I will be using "Indian" in many places simply because that's how they are referred to in the work.)

Tayo is half-white
Tayo is half-Pueblo
Tayo is not all anything

Tayo fought for us
But Tayo is not one of us
Second war of the world
Atomic pain
Great loss

Tayo returns
But Tayo does not return
He is lost

His friends are lost too
They lose themselves in liquor
He wants to be found

Medicine men
Fights with friends


Tayo finds himself in the mountain
The ceremony is complete
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

If you found that plot poem to be a bit opaque, then WELCOME to my world. There were things I really enjoyed about this novel, but there were also things that disturbed me, and many more which confused and confounded me. This was one of those books where I looked up a summary online after I finished, and thought, HUNH. Really? I was supposed to get all that? Not quite as large a mental gap as, say, Gravity's Rainbow (barf) but still substantial. 

My sister Diana did a read-along with me, so I'll be posting her thoughts shortly. Here are mine.

Between worlds
Reading this right after Native Son was fascinating, because I saw a lot of comparisons between Bigger and Tayo. Each young man felt trapped in his own skin, and wronged by the country to which he was 'native'. Here are a few of my favorite lines describing how Tayo feels when he returns home with PTSD from WWII:
  • They didn't want him at Laguna the way he was.
  • The new doctor asked him if he had ever been visible.
  • It had been a long time since he had thought about having a name.
  • It took a great deal of energy to be a human being.
  • He wanted to walk until he recognized himself again.
I have to agree that sometimes it does, indeed, take a great deal of energy to be a human being. Do you recognize yourself, dear readers? Do you ever wonder if you're someone else? It reminded me of one of my favorite Proust lines:
"So how, then, searching for our thoughts, our identities, as we search for lost objects, do we eventually recover our own self rather than any other? Why, when we regain consciousness, is it not an identity other than the one we had previously that is embodied in us? It is not clear what dictates the choice, or why, among the millions of human beings we might be, it is the being we were the day before that we unerringly grasp." I love the idea that you could accidentally grasp onto another human being's consciousness when you wake up in the morning. Whoops, I'm someone else!
"Jungle rain had no beginning or end."
OK, blobbists, I have to make a confession. I put this book on the list because, aside from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I don't think I've read any other books by indigenous Americans. I thought the biggest leap in my social understanding would be life on a reservation versus my rural upbringing. It hadn't even occurred to me that indigenous people fought in American wars, saw gruesome realities, were accepted as soldiers, and then rejected as humans when they returned. Tayo is so completely lost when he comes back, and between his PTSD and the fact that his cousin, the 'prodigal son', so to speak, died in the war, his identity is stripped away. No one wants to claim him, even the ones who are bound to do so. 
  • A white recruiter, to Tayo and Rocky - "Anyone can fight for America. Even you boys. In a time of need, anyone can fight for her." I found this so repulsive. I know that it is not uncommon for us to expect the same peoples that we denigrate and abuse to be our foot soldiers, and it's happened for eons, but that doesn't make it right. How dare we.
  • "Here they were, trying to bring back that old feeling, that feeling they belonged to America the way way they felt during the war. They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took. They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over." It was interesting to me that in Native Son, the white man bears the blame, but here, even if the white man deserves the blame, he is not held responsible. 
It's a (white) man's man's man's man's world.
In Native Son, Bigger feels that everything belongs to the white man, but fundamentally it's about personhood that has been stolen. For Tayo, the land is what has been stolen, and personhood is tied to the land. 

"We fought their war for them.
But they've got everything. 
They took our land, they took everything!" reminded me of

"They own everything. They choke you off the face of the earth. They after you so hot and hard you can only feel what they doing to you. They kill you before you die." from Native Son

Do you believe the lie? Do you live the lie?
Tayo, to himself: "Why did he hesitate to accuse a white man of stealing but not a Mexican or an Indian? He had learned the lie by heart - the lie which they had wanted him to learn: only brown-skinned people were thieves; white people didn't steal, because they always had the money to buy whatever they wanted." There's a term for this pattern of thinking - internalized racism? I can't quite put my finger on it; I think there was another term in my head. Anyway, it should force us all to do a gut check, methinks. I liked Tayo's next line:

"As long as people believed the lies, they would never be able to see what had been done to them or what they were doing to each other."

But, like Malcolm X and like Bigger Thomas, Tayo learns that whiteness is not singly equivalent to evil. One medicine man tells him: "Nothing is that simple. You don't write off all the white people, just like you don't trust all the Indians."

What is your tribe?
In addition to forgetting that indigenous peoples had multi-layered identities as Americans, I also forgot, to some extent, of the variety of tribes and the ways in which tribal identity reinforces or conflicts with other identities. Silko only touches on a few tribes in this work, but it made me want to learn more and research more about our nation's too-often hidden history.

This land is your land, this land is my land...
The importance of nature and the earth to Tayo and his culture were some of the only things I really liked about him. I wanted to like him, and I wanted to root for him, but I didn't feel like Silko really gave us the chance to get to know him. I also found it off-putting that her protagonist was a rather personality-less man - I wanted a woman's perspective, a woman's voice, maybe even (gasp!) some female side characters, if we can't have a female protagonist. His aunt and his grandmother were in the distance, but I never felt truly connected to them. It reminded me of how odd I found it that House of the Spirits centered around obnoxious Esteban and not any of the lovely del Valle women.

Some bits about nature:
  • "Indians wake up every morning of their lives to see the land which was stolen, still there, within reach, its theft being flaunted. And the desire is strong to make things right, to take back what was stolen and to stop them from destroying what they have taken." What struck me as I read this was the role of time, and the unfortunate fact that if you go back far enough, a new layer of imperialism, or subjugation, or slavery, or despotism will appear. I remember my favorite word from Intro to Comp Lit - palimpsest - a kind of manuscript where the original writing has been scratched off to make room for future writing, but traces of the old writing still remain. America's history is like a palimpsest, and unfortunately there's a great deal of pain hidden along with the triumphs of democracy and individual liberties. Bigger came earlier in the literary canon than Tayo, but Tayo's pain predates slavery and the Civil War.
How are we doing, dear blobbists? Do you need a break? A snack? Here's a mental caesura:

Oh I'm sorry. Was that too literal for you? 

Here's a less literal caesura:

AAAAAnd, we're back. 

The good news is, even though white people stole the land from Tayo and his people, they know a secret:
  • On white people buying up the land near the reservation: "They only fool themselves when they think it is theirs. The deeds and papers don't mean anything. It is the people who belong to the mountain."
  • "He had lost nothing. The mountain could not be lost to them, because it was in their bones."
Then there's this excellent line:
"He breathed deeply, and each breath had a distinct smell of snow from the north, of ponderosa pine on the rimrock above; finally he smelled horses from the direction of the corral, and he smiled. Being alive was all right then: he had not breathed like that for a long time." I love this line, and its simple poetry. What smells make you feel all right to be alive? I think for me it's new rain, browned butter, and fresh coffee. 

Alnilam, Mintaka, Alnitak***
 ***Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Hatsya
             ***Meissa, Saiph, Rigel 

I have a personal affection for the constellation Orion, so I was pleased to see it featured in Silko's secondary narrative which follows the 'Spider-Woman', a sort of Mother Earth equivalent.

"Maybe you have Orion in there

And then
everything - 

his clothing, his beads his heart
and the rainclouds 

will be yours."

Dessert stomachs, states with their own atmosphere, standing on a mesa to touch the moon
Tayo talks about how in his youth, he thought that you could touch the moon:
"He had believed that on certain nights, when the moon rose full and wide as a corner of the sky, a person standing on the high sandstone cliff of that mesa could reach the moon. If a person wanted to get to the moon, there was a way; it all depended on whether you knew the directions - exactly which way to go and what to do to get there; it depended on whether you knew the story of how others before you had gone."

It's like Neverland, right? Second star to the right and straight on till morning? I loved this imagery, and it reminded me of the amusing things we believe when we're still putting the world together in our heads. I, for instance, used to think that all the states and countries were stacked on top of each other, ground to sky, and so to cross from Pennsylvania to New York, for example, you'd have to travel through the atmosphere and start at the ground again. Logical Meredith tried to clear this up, since she had often ridden in cars between such states, and didn't remember crossing any atmospheres. But then imaginative Meredith countered with, "You always fall asleep in the car! You probably just missed the atmospheres changing!" ;)

A few years ago I was having dinner with my friend Sarah and her boyfriend, Chris, and he said that we should all get ready to fill up our dessert stomachs. I asked him to elaborate, and he said that as a boy, he thought we had separate stomachs for each course of our meals, and so he would delightedly inform his mother that he wasn't full, since he hadn't even touched the space in his dessert stomach!

What did you believe when you were young, dear readers? Dessert stomachs or alternate atmospheres? ;)

Lyrical lines I Liked:
  • "His body had density again." 
  • "The feelings of shame, at her own people and at the white people, grew inside her, side by side like monstrous twins that would have to be left in the hills to die."
  • "When it came to saving her own soul, she wanted to be careful that there were no mistakes."
  • "I've seen you before many times, and I always remembered you." I love this line so much. I was torn between this one and the one I chose for the title, but I felt like the title was more inclusive of the novel's intent. 
  • "They are trying to decide who you are." Another strong contender for title.
  • "Spider Woman had told Sun Man how to win the storm clouds back from the Gambler so they would be free again to bring rain and snow to the people." While some of the secondary narrative was confusing, I loved the imaginative quality to it. I know it only seems magical to me, since it's a different origin story than the one I was inculcated with, but I think there's something special about this. When you're told something is true from a young age, you are inclined to either accept or reject it. When you hear an alternate version, it can have a sort of mystical ring to it.
  • "She was with him again, a heartbeat unbroken where time subsided into dawn, and the sunset gave way to the stars, wheeling across the night."
petite pieces of poetry:
Because this book heavily features poetry, I wanted to take a moment to honor it with some of Silko's poems from the novel. 

"They flew to the fourth world
Down there 
was another kind of daylight
everything was blooming 
and growing
everything was so beautiful."

"I have left the zigzag lightning behind

I was born from the mountain
I leave a pat of wildflowers"

"Back in time immemorial, things were different, 
the animals could talk to human beings 
and many magical things still happened."

Did you see what I did just there? ;)

Words, Words, Wondrous Words

hackamore - a simple looped bridle, or a bridle without a bit, operated by exerting pressure on the horse's nose

hogan - a traditional Navajo hut of logs and earth

arroyo - a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region

kiva - a chamber, built wholly or partly underground, used by male Pueblo Indians for religious rites

Did you know all those words, blobbists? I did not. 

Well, all good things must come to an end, and so, alas, must this post. I want to leave you with a few final thoughts:

"I will tell you something about stories. 
They are all we have, you see, 
all we have to fight off 
illness and death. 

You don't have anything
if you don't have the stories."

It's so true. I don't know where I would be or what my life would be like if I had never found reading, and like Scout, I can't imagine losing it - it is, to me, like breathing now.

And in case you actually garnered some sort of affection for Tayo:

"I'm walking back to belonging
I'm walking home to happiness
I'm walking back to long life."

Our past is indeed a complex one, as Americans, and the intricacies of individual and collective identities can be painful to observe and immerse ourselves in. But how can we truly know ourselves until we understand what and who we are made of, and acknowledge who has won out and who has suffered in each phase of our becoming? 

I'll leave you with one final line:

"Everywhere he looked, he saw a world made of stories, 
the long ago, time immemorial stories, as old Grandma called them. 
It was a world alive, always changing and moving; 
and if you knew where to look, you could see it, 
sometimes almost imperceptible, 
like the motion of the stars across the sky."

On this day of remembrance, let us remember all the people who stand up for us and our freedoms in the ways they feel are right, our soldiers, both literal and literary, our forgotten, and our cherished nurturer, Mother Earth.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I shall witness for Bigger Thomas.

Native Son by Richard Wright

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Dear Blobbists, in a constant effort to mix things up, I have decided to present the plot of this novel in the form of a poem. Bigger = Bigger Thomas, the 20-year-old African-American male protagonist.

Bigger feeling stuck
Bigger offered a job
Bigger accepts

Bigger meets the white Daltons
Learns about Communism
Drives for daughter Mary

Bigger eats with Mary and boyfriend Jan
Bigger hates how they make him feel
Bigger brings Mary home
She's too drunk
To keep her quiet
Suffocation (accidental)

Bigger burns the body
(and chops the parts that need it)
Bigger says nothing

Bigger gets cocky and tries a ransom note
Bigger found out
Bigger on the run

Bigger kills his girl Bessie
To keep his secret

Bigger gets caught

Bigger defended by Communists
Bigger resentful, raging, alone

Bigger is tried
Bigger is killed.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Sometimes you read a book and you feel happy. Sometimes you read a book and you wish for more. And sometimes, in rare cases and in the right circumstances, you read a book and it changes you. 

This was one of those books. 

I read this book in stops and starts, and at times I felt like I was in a fugue state or an alternate reality. The intensity of emotion, the parallels with today's race relations, and the sheer brilliance of Wright's writing held me hostage for the handful of days it took me to finish the work. It was hard to read, acutely painful, on a number of levels. All that being said, if you haven't read it, please consider picking up a copy, or at least read this post in full to get an inkling of it.

I will not apologize for the lengthiness of this post. Race relations in America deserve a prominent place at the literary table, in the resistance, and on my blog. I will also not apologize for the black and whiteness of this post. While I recognize that race relations in America include a much larger set of groups with various interactions and prejudices and problems than simply those two groups, Wright's work focuses with laser precision on people with the color of his skin, and so, for this post, I will follow suit. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

I don't like to read introductions or extra information about books. I was, however, struck by this line from Arnold Rampersad's introduction to my edition:
"The sound of the alarm that opens Native Son was Richard Wright's urgent call in 1940 to America to awaken from its self-induced slumber about the reality of race relations in the nation."
It's certainly a beautiful line, but what struck me was its similarity to this line from Ta-Nehisi Coates's 2015 "Between the World and Me", a novel told as a letter to his son about race in America:
"When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies."
Are you dreaming now? Were you dreaming, but awoke? I think I alternate between dream-world and 'woke-world', and I am intimately conscious of the luxury of this choice. 

Before we dive into the novel's plot a little more, here are a few lines I think speak eloquently to this struggle:
  • "Wright believed that few Americans, black or white, were prepared to face squarely and honestly the most profound consequences of more than two centuries of the enslavement and segregation of blacks in North America." -Arnold Rampersad
  • "We must deal here with a dislocation of life involving millions of people, a dislocation so vast as to stagger the imagination; so fraught with tragic consequences as to make us rather not want to look at it or think of it; so old that we would rather try to view it as an order of nature and strive with uneasy conscience and false moral fervor to keep it so." -Max, Bigger's attorney
  • "Taken collectively, they are not simply twelve million people; in reality they constitute a separate nation, stunted, stripped, and held captive within this nation, devoid of political, social, economic, and property rights."
How does it feel to be a captive in your own country? Are there ways in which you feel you're a captive, readers?

Wright organizes the novel into three parts - Fear, Flight, and Fate. I've kept his sections and collected quotes that best articulate those themes. I've also added a few themes of my own.


  • "His courage to live depended upon how successfully his fear was hidden from his consciousness." I read this line over and over and over.
  • "This boy represents but a tiny aspect of a problem whose reality sprawls over a third of this nation. Kill him! Burn the life out of him! And still when the delicate and unconscious machinery of race relations slips, there will be murder again."
  • "You cannot kill this man, Your Honor, for we have made it plain that we do not recognize that he lives!"
  • "This was not his world; he had been foolish in thinking that he would have liked it." Bigger, on coming into the white world to drive for the Daltons. For some reason it made me think of this line from Ender's Game - "We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again."
  • "He was following a strange path into a strange land and his nerves were hungry to see where it led."
  • "He was not concerned with whether these acts were right or wrong; they simply appealed to him as possible avenues of escape." Traveling this journey with Bigger was troubling because I wanted to evaluate his actions on a scale of morality, but each decision and each action was so tied up in the history of his very existence and the socialization of his person that it became harder and harder to examine them through a lens of right and wrong. This is not to say that his actions are to be sanctioned, but rather that their impetus and drivers were much bigger than Bigger.
  • "His crime seemed natural; he felt that all of his life had been leading to something like this."
  • "He was tensely eager to stay and see how it would all end, even if that end swallowed him in blackness."
  • "'Didn't you know that the penalty for killing that white woman would be death?' 'Yeah, I knew it. But I felt like she was killing me, so I didn't care."
  • "It did not seem strange that the papers ought to be full of him now, for all his life he had felt that things had been happening to him that should have gone into them. But only after he had acted upon feelings which he had had for years would the papers carry the story, his story." This is another theme in the book - the idea that only by violating convention could Bigger make himself visible, create his own liberty. It was striking in its suitability.
In my last post, I spoke about hate, and how it's a sentiment I try to avoid, given its severity. That being said, I'm intentionally including it here because there is no other word for what Wright describes and what Bigger is feeling. I think it's essential that we recognize hate in this form, and the ways in which white people and America as a society have engendered this hatred. 
"Every time I think about it I feel like somebody's poking a red-hot iron down my throat. We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't. It's just like living in jail."
"He would have gladly admitted his guilt if he had thought that in doing so he could have also given in the same breath a sense of the deep, choking hate that had been his life, a hate that he had not wanted to have, but could not help having. How could he do that? The impulsion to try to tell was as deep as had been the urge to kill." Sometimes I wonder (and this is dark, dear blobbists, so fair warning) how a people who have been so wronged by their country and their fellow citizens can even breathe through their emotions. At Breakthrough, we speak from the "I" perspective, so I will not pretend to know anything other than my own feelings, but I know that my rage and my fear and my sadness are but a fraction of what I could feel were I born with a different color of skin.
"They own everything. They choke you off the face of the earth. They after you so hot and hard you can only feel what they doing to you. They kill you before you die."
I mention these lines in particular because, while in some ways, things are dramatically better or different than they were when Wright wrote this, in other ways things are much the same. I say this not to be pessimistic or dismissive of the various efforts and battles to get to where we are, but rather to draw attention to the work to be done.

I was struck several times by how often and explicitly Wright refers to the color of his characters. I realized that in part, this drew attention to how often and how unconsciously I assume characters are white. In reading these various lines -"the black mother", "the brown daughter", "his black body", "their black fingers", "blackly naked" - I was reminded of a discussion I had with my friend Dennis, a writer currently working on his own brilliant novel at the MacDowell Colony. (#soproud) 

We were talking about writing and race, and Dennis brought up an interview he'd heard with Toni Morrison where she spoke about race and how she wrote about it in ParadiseMorrison said that she started with race (The novel opens with the line "They shoot the white girl first. . . ") and then erased it by never revealing who the white girl is. I thought of how often we ascribe race to characters without thinking, based on arbitrary or logical descriptors, our own biases, our own natural proclivities, our own identities. What race do you assume characters are?

I was struck by one noticeable change in reading Bigger's opinions on race. Before he goes to work for the Daltons, he spends time with a friend of his and they 'play white'. They poke fun at the formal way white people talk, the kinds of things they say, the power they wield. In particular, playing white involves pretending to be the President of the United States. In reading this section, I was pleased to think that this particular example would no longer work. Though, alas, it could still be a game where we 'play men'.

"It was when he read the newspapers or magazines, went to the movies, or walked along the streets with crowds, that he felt what he wanted: to merge himself with others and be a part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black." Do you feel that you can lose yourself to find yourself, readers? What holds you back?

As a woman (and a feminist) I feel it is my duty to point out that while Wright eloquently depicts the struggles of being a black man in America, in doing so he frequently tramples on black women. I don't want to oversimplify this, because I think there are a lot of complicating factors when we look at the crossroads of race and gender, particularly within a severely oppressed and repressed race. That being said, here were a few lines with which I took umbrage:
  • "A woman was a dangerous burden when a man was running away." oh REALLY? fine, then. leave without us.
  • "That's a woman, always. You want to know something, then you run like a rabbit." oh yes. we're just a bunch of Ridiculous Rabbits, we women.
  • "All I do is work, work like a dog! From morning till night. I ain't got no happiness. I ain't never had none. I just work. I'm black and I work and don't bother nobody..." This is a line from Bessie, and it reminded me a great deal of Beyoncé's Lemonade and the exploration of female blackness. Bessie REALLY drew the short straw in this book (and in life) and I felt for her.
Referents and Reverberations 
(This is a new section I'm including when the spirit moves me. It refers to when a work reminds me of other works that came before or followed suit. I've made this version a guessing game - see if you can guess the novel based on the cropped cover art and the quotes I chose from Native Son to match!)

Year of Publication: 1866

"Could people tell he had done something wrong by the way he acted?"

"During the last two days and nights he had lived so fast and hard that it was an effort to keep it all real in his mind."

ANSWER: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Year of Publication: 1932

"The knowledge that he had killed a white girl they loved and regarded as their symbol of beauty made him feel the equal of them, like a man who had been somehow cheated, but had now evened the score."

ANSWER: Light in August by William Faulkner

Year of Publication: 1937

"Why did he and his folks have to live like this? What had they ever done? Perhaps they had not done anything."

ANSWER: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Native Son by Richard Wright - 1940 
(Just to help you place it on the timeline)

Year of Publication: 1942

"He was not so much in a stupor, as in the grip of a deep physiological resolution not to react to anything."

"Was this the all, the meaning, the end?"

ANSWER: The Stranger by Albert Camus

Year of Publication: 1952

"Had he not done what they thought he never could? His being black and at the bottom of the world was something which he could take with a new-born strength."

 ANSWER: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Year of Publication: 1960

"What's the use? When folks say things like that about you, you whipped before you born. I'm black. I don't have to do nothing for 'em to get me."

ANSWER: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

That line reminded me of this exchange, an all-time favorite I've referenced many times on this blob: 

"Atticus, are we going to win it?"
"No, honey."
"Then why-"
"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Clara the Clairvoyant could interpret dreams.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The House of the Spirits is an epic tale of romance and rebellion, revolution and reconciliation. It chronicles the lives of Clara Del Valle and Esteban Trueba, an unlikely couple who weather disasters (both natural and personal) throughout their lengthy union. With Clara and Esteban, we experience Marxism and dictatorship, juntas and coups, the supernatural and the banal. As in any good magical realism epic, we follow several generations, and while the setting changes (in time and temperament) the core of the story is fundamentally unchanged. Allende explores love in all forms - lustful love, young love, guerrilla love, familial love, and love for your country.

Just to give you a sense of how intricate (and confusing) some of the relationships are in the book, I've included a family tree from someone's Prezi (don't worry, Prezis make me nauseous (or is it nauseated, grandma?) so I just included a screenshot). Anyway, it gives you an overall idea. ;)
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I did not like this book when I started it. Tbqh, I didn't like it halfway through, or even nearing the end. Having completed it, my opinion is confuffled. That's the word I've decided to use, since all the others I wanted Weren't Quite Right. 

I do feel like the ending gave me a better sense of the whole narrative arc, and reading a bit about Chile and Allende herself after finishing made the work come into focus for me. I'll just come out and say it, so you can stop wondering: I hated the narrator. I loved the women in the book, and they were each unique, and fascinating, and compelling, flawed in all the right and wrong ways. The narrator, in what felt like an odd choice to me, was Esteban Trueba, the patriarch-to-be, lecherous, conservative, irascible, and (imho) downright unlikable. I don't understand if this is a literary thing that I just don't get (because we know it's happened before - Raskolnikov, Meursault) but I found it particularly odd given that Allende wrote such strong and empowered female characters but chose for her storyteller to be a male oppressor-of-sorts. 

Anyway, that's just my dos pesos. Onwards to the rest of my thoughts, as usual in no real order.

I've been thinking quite a lot about how best to resist in this bizarre waking nightmare of reality. I've protested and donated, worked to inform myself and support those most affected when I can, but when it comes down to it, I think the best resistance is deeply personal. In designing my second list, I was setting out to resist the status quo, deciding for myself and my readers what qualifies as 'classic'. So I return to my reading with renewed vigor, believing, as always, that fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. 

These lines struck me as I read:
  • "But now I have begun to question my own hatred." Alba, Esteban's granddaughter, is taken by the junta (SPOILED! #sorrynotsorry) and even though she has every right to hate her captors, after she is freed she struggles to find the same venom in her heart. It made me think of the "Hate has no home here" signs I've seen in my neighborhood and across the country, and reminded me of my grandma - "Don't say hate, Meredith, it's such a strong word." Continue to resist I will and must, but hate I simply cannot.
  • "After that terrible Tuesday, Alba had to rearrange her feelings in order to continue living." I think many of us have had to do some feelings rearranging to make it through these last few months, some communities and persons far more than others. I'd like to take a moment to celebrate everyone who's persevered despite persecution, and applaud those individuals and groups who are fighting the good fight.
  • "Unfortunately she turned out to be an idealist, a family disease."  I love this line, as a fellow idealist in a diseased family. ;)
Since this novel is so family-centered, I'd like to paint you a portrait of the cast of characters. Here are my favorite tidbits to give you a snapshot (or should I say daguerreotype?) of each one:

Clara the Clairvoyant
"Clara lived in a universe of her own invention, protected from life's inclement weather."
"She dressed in white, because she had decided that it was the only color that did not change her aura." This made me think of a character on Numbers who only consumes white food, and also of Christopher Boone and his Battenberg cake. 
"At six she had discovered the magic books in the enchanted trunks of her legendary Great-Uncle Marcos and had fully entered the world-without-return of the imagination."
Nívea, the matriarch of the Del Valles, on Rosa
"She preferred not to torment her daughter with earthly demands, for she had a premonition that her daughter was a heavenly being, and that she was not destined to last very long in the vulgar traffic of this world." Rosa is Esteban's intended bride, Clara's older sister.
Uncle Marcos, explorer, voracious reader, adventurer extraordinaire
"Uncle Marcos's manners were those of a cannibal, as Severo put it. He spent the whole night making incomprehensible movements in the drawing room; later they turned out to be exercises designed to perfect the mind's control over the body and to improve digestion. He performed alchemy experiments in the kitchen, filling the house with fetid smoke and ruining pots and pans with solid substances that stuck to their bottoms and were impossible to remove."
"He sold his organ to a blind man and left the parrot to Clara, but Nana secretly poisoned it with an overdose of cod-liver oil, because no one could stand its lusty glance, its fleas, and its harsh, tuneless hawking of paper fortunes, sawdust balls, and powders for impotence." ahgahghaghagha.
"Marcos spent two weeks assembling the contents according to an instruction manual written in English, which he was able to decipher thanks to his invincible imagination and a small dictionary." zeugma! my favorite!
I loved Uncle Marcos and the almost lionizing presence he had over his family. He's featured only briefly in their early lives, but he leaves an indelible mark, much like my Uncle Chris.

Rosa the Beautiful, Clara the Clairvoyant, Beautiful Laura with the Long Blonde Hair
Many characters get epithets, which made me think of my grandma, who had a similar tendency to extended nomenclature. ;)

Nana, servant to the Del Valles, caretaker of children, creature of the night
When Clara stops speaking in her youth: "Nana had the idea that a good fright might make the child speak, and spent nine years inventing all sorts of desperate strategies for frightening Clara, the end result of which was to immunize the girl forever against terror and surprise. Nana dressed up as a headless pirate, as the executioner of the Tower of London, as a werewolf or a horned devil, depending on her inspiration of the moment and on the ideas she got while flipping through the pages of certain horror magazines. She had acquired the habit of gliding silently through the hallways and jumping in the dark, howling through the doorways, and hiding live animals between her sheets, but none of this elicited so much as a peep from the little girl. At times Clara lost her patience. She would throw herself on the floor, kicking and shouting, but without pronouncing a single word in any recognizable tongue; or she would scrawl on the tiny blackboard that never left her side, setting down the worst insults she could think of to say to the poor woman, who would weep disconsolately in the kitchen. 'It's for your own good, my little angel!' Nana would sob, wrapped in a bloody sheet, her face blackened with burnt cork." This was one of my favorite scenes in the whole book. :0)
The Mora Sisters (and Practical Magic - you put de lime in de coconut...)
I haven't mentioned much of it, but there's quite a bit of the mystical and magical in this novel. The Mora Sisters have magical powers, and they connect with the Del Valle ladies at several points throughout the story: "One Friday afternoon, three translucent ladies knocked at the door to the big house on the corner. They had eyes like sea mist, covered their heads with old-fashioned flowered hats, and were bathed in a strong scent of wild violets, which infiltrated all the rooms and left the house smelling of flowers for days after their visit."
Esteban Trueba, on the occult:"He maintained that magic, like cooking and religion, was a particularly feminine affair."
Férula, Esteban's sister, selfless, sad, and eventually sent away
Clara, to Férula, after she has gone away:"Férula, how I've needed your help to look after the family, you know I'm no good at domestic matters, the boys are terrible but Blanca is a lovely child, and the hydrangeas that you planted with your own two hands in Tres Marías turned out beautiful, some are blue because I put some copper coins in the fertilizer, it's a secret of nature, and every time I arrange them in a vase I think of you, but I also think of you when there aren't any hydrangeas, I always think of you, Férula, because the truth is that since you left no one has ever loved me as you did." Férula really grew on me, and I hated Esteban for kicking her out. I loved the line about the hydrangeas, because my mom told me about this as a child, and I thought it was the most magical thing in the world. Tres Marias is the family home for Esteban et al. and I liked that it made me think of Rosehaven, our erstwhile family farm.
Blanca, daughter of Clara and Esteban, mother to Alba, lover of Pedro Garcia
On Blanca's propensity for sculpting: "Blanca began to create tiny figures for the family's Christmas manger, not only the Three Kings and the shepherds, but a whole crowd of every kind of people and every type of animal - African camels and zebras, American iguanas and Asian tigers - without worrying about the exact fauna of Bethlehem. Afterward she added imaginary animals, gluing half an elephant to half a crocodile. Clara decided that if craziness can repeat itself in a family, then there must be a genetic memory that prevents it from being swallowed by oblivion." They continue to refer to her 'incredible crèches full of monsters', which I found hilarious. It also reminded me of years when our cats inhabit the crèche, or the suspicious absence of a certain baby's fingers...
Alba, daughter of Blanca, and Uncle Jaime, son of Esteban, twin to Nicolas, sister to Blanca
"Together they had invented certain imaginary games to entertain themselves on rainy afternoons. 'Bring on the elephant!' Uncle Jaime would command. Alba would go out and return pulling an imaginary pachyderm on an invisible rope. They could spend a good half hour giving him the herbs elephants like to eat, bathing his skin with mud to protect it from the harsh effects of bad weather, and polishing his ivory tusks while they heatedly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of living in the jungle." This was another uncle/niece relationship I found endearing, and I especially loved that Alba plays the cello, since my own epic Uncle Chris bought me my first and current cello.
And now for something completely different. I'm often struck by what a book reminds me of, and this book was no exception. Here is a nonexclusive list for your enjoyment. Do you need a break first? Here's a silly picture to look at while you take a break and stretch, pet your porcupine, have a cuppa:
Image result for silly cat pictures

All right, enough of that, let's get on with it!

Books this book reminded me of:
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Marquez" - "They say that I arrived covered with dust, without a hat, filthy and bearded, thirsty and furious, shouting for my bride."
  • To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf - on Esteban reviving Tres Marías - "The entire house was carpeted with a thick layer of grass, dust, and dried-out leaves. It smelled like a tomb." I thought of this line: "The house was left; the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it. The long night seemed to have set in; the trifling airs, nibbling, the clammy breaths, fumbling, seemed to have triumphed. The saucepan had rusted and the mat decayed."
  • Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel García Marquez - "Marcos thought no woman in her right mind could remain impassive before a barrel-organ serenade." This screamed Florentino Ariza to me ;) Which is funny, because I just researched their publication dates, and Florentino wasn't even out in the world yet when this was published. 
  • À la recherche du temps perdu - Marcel Proust
  • "I would have loved her without interruption almost till infinity." This sounds like something Swann would say about Odette. ;)
  • "I write that memory is fragile and the space of a single life is brief, passing so quickly that we never get a chance to see the relationship between events; we cannot gauge the consequences of our acts, and we believe in the fiction of past, present, and future, but it may also be true that everything happens simultaneously - as the three Mora sisters said, who could see the spirits of all eras mingled in space." "Are there perhaps other worlds more real than the waking world?" There's a little Vonnegut here, too - "I asked myself about the present - how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep."
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - Pedro and Blanca reminded me of Tess and Angel, at least in the good old days: "They spent that summer oscillating between childhood, which still held them in its clasp, and their awakening as man and woman. There were times when they ran like little children, stirring up the chickens and exciting the cows, drinking their fill of fresh milk and winding up with foam mustaches, stealing fresh-baked bread straight from the oven and clambering up trees to build secret houses. At other times they hid in the forest's thickest, most secret recesses, making beds of leaves and pretending that they were married, caressing each other until they fell asleep exhausted."
  • Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving - Barrabás and Sorrow, reanimated brothers from another mother: "Esteban pointed to the place where Clara was standing. It was the special surprise he had prepared for her. Clara looked down and gave a frightful cry; she was standing on the black back of Barrabás, who lay there split down the middle, transformed into a rug. His head was still intact and his two glass eyes stared up at her with the helpless look that is the specialty of taxidermists. Her husband managed to catch her before she fell to the floor in a dead faint. 'I told you she wasn't going to like it,' said Férula." lololololol. When will these families learn that taxidermy is Not a universally pleasing concept?
  • Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes - "The worst thing is to be afraid of fear." I was completely blown away by the bravery of several characters, particularly following the coup and in the years of the junta's reign. I loved this line, and it felt like something DQ would say.
  • Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - "The books from Jaime's den were piled in the courtyard, doused with gasoline, and set on fire in an infamous pyre that was fed with the magic books from the enchanted trunks of Great-Uncle Marcos, the remaining copies of Nicolás's esoteric treatise, the leather-bound set of the complete works of Marx, and even Trueba's opera scores, producing a scandalous bonfire that filled the neighborhood with smoke and that, in normal times, would have brought fire trucks from every direction." So upsetting! Montag, come help!
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway - "Soldiers are not made to shine in times of peace." "Things like this never happened here." - The closest referent I felt in reading about the unnamed, but ostensibly Chile-like country where this novel was set, was Spain during the Civil War, and the unforgettable scene of reckoning in FWTBT. 
Do you need another break! What a long entry for someone who Didn't Really Like the Book, eh? Well, have another silly picture:

Last bit! 

Words, Words, Wonderful Words I did not know before but now I DO!

camellia an evergreen eastern Asian shrub related to the tea plant, grown for its showy flowers and shiny leaves

Une petite collection de daguerréotypes portrait collection daguerreotype 39 photo photographie histoire featuredcordillera - a system or group of parallel mountain ranges together with the intervening plateaus and other features, especially in the Andes or the Rockies

daguerreotype - a photograph taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapor (I like to imagine that's Uncle Marcos)

frou frou - a rustling noise made by someone walking in a dress; frills or other ornamentation, particularly of women's clothes (not to be confused with Imogen Heap's band)

patina - a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period; a gloss or sheen on wooden furniture produced by age and polishing; an impression or appearance of something (Did you guys ever play 'clean the pennies' as a kid? I know I did.)

Tyrolean - relating to or characteristic of the Austrian state of Tyrol or its inhabitants (Sure sure sure. Good ole' Tyrol! You know, everyone knows that. I found this gem of a picture when I googled "Tyrolean" in image search.)

zarzuela - a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance

I'll leave you with a few final favorite lines:
"She was one of those stoical, practical women of our country. The kind of woman who's the pillar of many other lives. It was then I understood that the days of Colonel García and all those like him are numbered, because they have not been able to destroy the spirit of these women." The days of the Cheeto/Talking Yam are numbered, and we Nasty Women Will Persist. We know the future is female.
"For Alba, the most important person in the house and the strongest presence in her life was her grandmother. She was the motor that drove the magic universe." Grandma Rose, you are my inspiration, my lifeblood, my memory, and my heart. I read for you.
Onwards to Indigenous Daughter, or something of that ilk. Read, resist, and love, blobbists. À plus!