Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

"I liked looking on at other people in crucial situations.  If there was a road accident or a street fight or a baby pickled in a laboratory far for me to look at, I'd stop and look so hard I never forgot it.

I certainly learned a lot of things I never would have learned otherwise this way, and even when they surprised me or made me sick I never let on, but pretended that's the way I knew things were all the time."


"For the first time in my life, sitting there in the soundproof heart of the UN building between Constantin who could play tennis as well as simultaneously interpret and the Russian girl who knew so many idioms, I felt dreadfully inadequate.  The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.

The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end.

I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date of a tombstone.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer name and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."


"The only reason I remembered this play was because it had a mad person in it, and everything I had ever read about mad people stuck in my mind, while everything else flew out."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

She writes about Native American Indian tribes, about which I've discovered a recent fascination given some of my legal work.  Mumsie read The Roundhouse and loved it, and let's face it, the woman knows her books, so I added this to the list after I read the back cover.

"'But when Neve Harp said that she was going back to the beginning of things and wanted to talk about how the town of Pluto came to be and why it was inside the original reservation boundaries, though hardly any Indians lived in Pluto, well, both of the old men's faces became like Mama's - quiet, with an elaborate reserve, and something else that has stuck in my heart ever since.  I saw that the loss of their land was lodged inside of them forever.  This loss would enter me, too.  Over time, I came to know that the sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character - my old uncle through his passionate discipline, my mother through strict kindness and cleanly order.  As for my grandfather, he used the patient art of ridicule."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Oprah book club read.  Friends, I judged this book by its cover and it spoke to my need for a silly lift between real reads.  And it turned out to be just that.  No dog-eared pages worth sharing.  Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

But I will say...rhetorical emo third person questions in every chapter are annoying and border offensive.  "why did he ever leave her?"  "how could he hate her for needing someone to care for her?"  Seriously?  Daytime television called and they want their inner monologue back.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Little Bee" by Chris Cleave

40 something gay men can't write novels as little girls. I know you want to and I know it's unfair! This is America for heaven's sake!  I know you think you were a quirky little person and it's time to show the world how clever you were, coping with complex circumstances by fixating on a simple happy place as a defense mechanism, etc. etc. I'm sure you were a creative little cat and nobody has appreciated your adolescent genius quite like your adult self. Really -- I believe this. Bravo to old souls and curious, tiny sponges. You're just no longer convincing once you're all grown up and writing for the New York Times Best Seller list. Please stop.  Unless fictionalizing a brilliant child that is loosely based on some version of your former self is an easy few million, in which case, I loved this book and we need a few more of these next year!  Anyone care for a harrowing tale of overcoming adversity in North Florida?

"On the girl's brown legs there were many small white scars.  I was thinking, do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress?  I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar makers want us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived.

In a few breaths' time I will speak some sad words to you.  But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now.  Sad words are just another beauty.  A sad story means, this story-teller is alive.  The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile."

Friday, December 28, 2012

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

Am I the last person to hear of Lionel Shriver?  Apparently she falls into a large category of brilliant writers whose existence somehow eluded me until now.  I guess I really meant it when I was 10 years old and my mom asked:  "what do you really want to do Becca?"  And I said, "I want to read all the books in the world."  I just wish that Shriver's had fallen earlier on my list.  She could've taken the place of, say, Elizabeth Gilbert or Charles Dickens.

Anywho. Shriver serves as the voice for us all when she succumbs to the pressure of motherhood - a successful, 30 something gal who is worried to introduce a new person into a nuclear universe even more screwed up than her own.  The marriage appears fine, but the root of the obstacle is Shriver keeping her booming career while becoming a mummy later in life.  Two no-no's that are sure to catapult your kid into becoming a mass murderer, right?

"So I wasn't only afraid of becoming my mother, but a mother.  I was afraid of being the steadfast, stationary anchor who provides a jumping-off place for another young adventurer whose travels I might envy whose future is still unmoored and unmapped.  I was afraid of being that archetypal figure in the doorway - frowzy, a little plump - who waves goodbye and blows kisses as a backpack is stashed in the trunk; who dabs her eyes with an apron ruffle in the fumes of departing exhaust; who turns forlornly to twist the latch and wash the too-few dishes by the sink as the silence in the room presses down like a dropped ceiling.  More than of leaving, I had developed a horror of being left.  How often I had done that to you, stranded you with the baguette crusts of our farewell dinner and swept off to my waiting taxi.  I don't believe I ever told you how sorry I was for putting you through all those little deaths of serial desertion, or commended you on constraining expression of your quite justifiable sense of abandonment to the occasional quip.

Franklin, I was absolutely terrified of having a child.  Before I got pregnant, my visions of child rearing - reading stories about cabooses with smiley faces at bedtime, feeding glop into slack mouths - all seemed like pictures of someone else.  I dreaded confrontation with what could prove a closed, stony nature, my own selfishness and lack of generosity, the thick, tarry powers of my own resentment.  However intrigued by a 'turn of the page,' I was mortified by the prospect of becoming hopelessly trapped in someone else's story.  And I believe that this terror is precisely what must have snagged me, the way a ledge will tempt one to jump off.  The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it."

Did I mention you may not want to pick up this read if you're on the fence about starting a family?  "Kevin" makes you wonder who is at fault when nature wins in the nature vs. nurture battle present within each child. I'll let you know who generally doesn't lose: dear old dad. It turns out that society really doesn't expect much out of dad, but generously attaches blame to mumsie, regardless of the disparity in quantity or quality from each.  These forces drive Eva's marriage to disaster, as the book is comprised of only letters to Franklin, recalling a life when they were together before Kevin's "Thursday" that changed their community forever.

"It's always the mother's fault, ain't it?" she said softly, collecting her coat.  "That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie.  She let him run wild, she don't teach him right from wrong.   She never home when he back from school.  Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school.  And nobody ever say they come kids just damned mean.  Don't you believe that old guff.  Don't you let them saddle you with all that killing...It hard to be a momma.  Nobody pass a law say 'fore you get pregnant you gotta be perfect.  I'm sure you try the best you could.  You here, in this dump, on a nice Saturday afternoon?  You still trying.  Now you take care of yourself, honey.  And you don't be talking any more a that nonsense."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Frances Nolan, Age 15 years and 4 months.  April 6, 1917.
She thought:  "If I open this envelope fifty years from now, I will be again as I am now and there will be no being old for me.  There's a long, long time yet before fifty years...millions of hours of time.  But one hour has gone already since I sat here...only one hour less to hour gone away from all the hours of my life."
"Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.  Let me be gay; let me be sad.  Let me be cold; let me be warm.  Let me be hungry...have too much to eat.  Let me be ragged or well dressed.  Let me be sincere -- be deceitful.  Let me be truthful; let me be a liar.  Let me be honorable and let me sin.  Only let me be something every blessed minute.  And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Styron the siren

William Styron, you poetic prince.  Are you American?  Can it be so?  Certainly not English.  Southern with a love for Paris you say?  Virginia boy, you make me want to drink a bottle of Cabernet and reread Nabokov.

"I remember those first weeks at Yetta's with remarkable clarity. To begin with, there was a magnificent surge of creative energy, the innocent and youthful abandon with which I was able to set down in so short a time the first fifty or sixty pages of the book.  I have never written fast or easily and this was no exception, for even then I was compelled to search, however inadequately, for the right word and suffered over the rhythms and subtleties of our gorgeous but unbenevolent, unyielding tongue; nonetheless, I was seized by a strange, dauntless self-confidence and I scribbled away joyously while the characters I had begun to create seemed to a acquire a life of their own and the muggy atmosphere of the Tidewater summer took on both an eye-dazzling and almost tactile reality, as if unspooling before my eyes on film, in uncanny three-dimensional color.  How I now cherish the image of myself in this earlier time, hunched over the schoolmarm's desk in that radiant pink room, whispering melodiously (as I still do) the invented phrases and sentences, testing them on my lips like some obsessed verse-monger, and all the while remaining supremely content in the knowledge that the fruit of this happy labor, whatever its deficiencies, would be the most awesome and important of man's imaginative endeavors -- The Novel.  The blessed Novel.  The sacred Novel.  The Almighty Novel.  Oh, Stingo, how I envy you in those faraway afternoons of First Novelhood (so long before middle age and the drowsy slack tides of inanition, gloomy boredom with fiction, and the pooping-out of ego and ambition) when immortal longings impelled your every hyphen and semicolon and you had the faith of a child in the beauty you felt you were destined to bring forth."

~ William Styron, Sophie's Choice