Welcome to bookchat where you can talk about anything...books, plays, essays, and books on tape. You don’t have to be reading a book to come in, sit down, and chat with us.
And heads up! This edition is hosted by a substitute Reader/Chatter. The incomparable cfk, Herself, doyenne of Bookflurries for oh so many years, is in her second 24 hours of recovery from knee replacement surgery. She's beset, I swann, by meds, hospital food, and physical therapy, but she's armed with her purple bag of books, just four or five, she claimed last week, but we all know she couldn't resist adding a dozen or so more on her way out the door at 3:30 AM yesterday. Let us all now join in sending good vibrations her way and, like dolphins with an injured sister, buoy her up (in spirit; dolphins use their fins too, but that's not feasible just now).
Ckf gave me lots of notice that I'd be substituting tonight, but a decade wouldn't have been enough for me to approach her widely-readedness. I started a whole bunch of books and even finished one, that I hadn't read already (usually I reread books to tatters). But I soon realized that I wasn't going to be able to fake my way through this diary. The only solution? The classic Kos fallback -- going meta.
I started by thinking of reading as journey, as lots of people have done before. And there's a lot to be said for the comparison. You set out, with your trusty, or not, narrator, and the writer who may or may not also be the narrator or the narrator's evil twin. And they point out the cool sights all around you as you walk along, and you may be caught up in the sights or you may start noticing also the things they aren't pointing out, like the million switchbacks the path/plot is taking, or the extreme fragility of the coincidence bridge across Chapter 5. Or that the path is actually a dry streambed bestrewn with rocks (present tense, oh hi, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry!). Or the path is a steep dry streambed bestrewn with rocks (first person present tense, do I really want to play The Hunger Games?). Or the narrator decides he isn't going to go along after all, and just hands you a map and says have a good trip. Or, as in Ulysses, the narrator doesn't give you a map and is instead perched on a tower watching your struggles in the thorny maze that is Ulysses and shouting misdirections at you (luckily pico was there during the ordeal).
After a while, anyway, all this metaphorical journeying made me hungry. So I started thinking about reading as eating, only in a soul-nourishing, non-fattening way. Some books are like a delicious, good-for-you gumbo (Huckleberry Finn). Others are like Alice B. Toklas brownies (anything by P.G. Wodehouse). And good romance novels are obviously the Rice Krispie Squares of the literary world.
But the house of cards collapsed when I tried to assign a food to A Distant Trumpet. And besides, I realized, reading a good book requires effort by the reader, keeping track of subplots and characters and locations and symbolism and foreshadowing and red herrings. Sometimes this is a lotof effort, especially if it the book is thousands of pages long (The Goldfinch) or regularly features sentences like:
But let us not forget that if it was capital that in the nineteenth century played a fundamental role in the establishment -- amongst certain social classes and arenas -- of the autonomous gaze, it was again primarily capital that in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries championed multi-sensorial experience, be it in theme parks and arcades, the department store, the shopping mall, or more recently the domestic sphere (cf. Howes 2003: 208-214).There's no way you can compare the experience of a sentence like that (chosen at random, by the way, from Archeology And The Senses: Human Experience, Memory, And Affect) with downing a glazed doughnut. Or even an artichoke or a big ole pile of crawfish.
No, I told myself. Reading isn't like eating so much as it is like cooking, which of course includes eating too. Reading The (interminable but utterly engaging) Goldfinch reminded me very, very strongly of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 24, with the side dishes taking up 50% of the kitchen and needing to be reheated, Mr. Emmet taking up 75% of the kitchen making his famous mashed potatoes, guests taking up 60% of the kitchen and trying to TALK to me, the hors d'eouvres running low, the wine running high, and a turkey in the oven that was brined, cosseted, seasoned, brought to room temp, lovingly nested in a really good roasting pan and started in good time, but which has gone on strike and refuses to BE DONE. I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and I loved The Goldfinch, but just as I was happy when I handed the finally finished turkey over to my sister-in-law to be carved, so I was thrilled when the gun made its appearance toward the end of The GF. Now we're finally getting somewhere, I thought!
Reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, OTOH, was like spending hours with the world's allegedly greatest roast chicken recipe, one of those finicky ones with butter under the skin and lots of exotic ingredients in the stuffing. And at the end, you know what? It's just a roast chicken. And Storied Life was just a story (I know, I know, if you can't say anything nice.... It wasn't a bad story.
Reading The Great Sea by David Abulafia is like catering a sitdown wedding banquet for 200 epicures, except you get to take your time. Maybe it's a wedding of the gods, and they've got eternity. Reading Archeology And The Senses is like making, for the first time, one of the recipes in The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. In "Melting Sweet Red Peppers With Toasted Pine Nuts and Capers," for example, she demands "12 salted capers, soaked in water for 10 minutes and then drained." That's 12. Not 14. You don't want to ruin it, do you?
Reading Diana Wynne Jones, on the other hand, is like making cinnamon toast, the kind where you mix the butter and cinnamon and brown sugar into a paste and then put it on the (slightly cooled) toast REALLY thick and eat it all yourself, in a world where carbohydrates are weight-neutral. Yum. I just finished my fifth reread of The Pinhoe Egg and started The Dalemark Quartet, which I haven't read for 20 years. Waiting in the wings, of course, is Terry Pratchett and Raising Steam.. There'd been a rumor that it would be Raising Taxes, but it was not to be. Might've been too much even for Moist and Spike.
Anyway, if prose is cooking and eating, then poetry is wine. Let me share two favorites. The first is not well known:
The WayfarerPadraic Pearse was awaiting execution in Kilmainham Gaol when he wrote this, along with the younger brother he'd hoped to protect, after the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, which may account for the melancholy tone.
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way
Here's another about time and change. This was voted Poem of The Month for April by the Medicare Recipients' League:
The Folly of Being ComfortedNow let's all hope cfk is back with the books next week!
One that is ever kind said yesterday:
“Your well beloved’s hair has threads of grey,
And little shadows come about her eyes;
Time can but make it easier to be wise,
Though now it’s hard, till trouble is at an end;
And so be patient, be wise and patient, friend.”
But heart, there is no comfort, not a grain;
Time can but make her beauty over again,
Because of that great nobleness of hers;
The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs
Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways,
When all the wild Summer was in her gaze.
O heart! O heart! if she’d but turn her head,
You’d know the folly of being comforted.
Diaries of the Week:
Write On! Try to limit yourself to 100 words by SensibleShoes
Books That Changed My Life--Were You A Hippie? by Azazello
James Baldwin Would Be 90 Today by OrWebb
All Rise for Dignity
by Robert Fuller