Thursday, May 31, 2018

Flaubert & Barnes

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (b 1946)
"A Simple Heart" by Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

See previous posts:

"Coffee With Flaubert"
@ The Quotidian Kit


"Trees, Trains, and Idiots"
@The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

[also: "Advancing & Receding"]

Finally, last month (April 2018) I got around to reading Flaubert's Parrot, a title that has lingered on my perpetual reading list since 1986. What was I waiting for? Why didn't I read this book back in the 20th Century? I don't know! But my friend Len had a good answer:

"This way you found unexpected pleasure
in the tumultuous 21st Century."

Indeed I did! When I reached the narrator's list of banned genres and banned plots, I could not help laughing out loud like a crazy person, all alone in my house:
"There is to be a twenty - year ban on novels set in Oxford or Cambridge, and a ten - year ban on other university fiction. No ban on fiction set in polytechnics (though no subsidy to encourage it). No ban on novels set in primary schools; a ten - year ban on secondary - school fiction. A partial ban on growing - up novels (one per author allowed). . . .

"A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America. The intention is to curb the spread of package - tour baroque and heavy irony. Ah, the propinquity of cheap life and expensive principles, of religion and banditry, of surprising honour and random cruelty. Ah, the daiquiri bird which incubates its eggs on the wing; ah, the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tips of its branches, and whose fibres assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner; ah the opera house now overgrown by jungle. [The Lost City of Z, Under the Volcano?] Permit me to rap on the table and murmur 'Pass!' Novels set in the Arctic and the Antarctic will receive a development grant
" (98 - 99).

And then there is his passage through customs, returning to England from France. Remember how Oscar Wilde supposedly said, "I have nothing to declare but my genius"? Well, Julian Barnes / Geoffrey Braithwaite is even better:
"I never have more than the permitted amount of duty - free goods; I've never imported plants, or dogs, or drugs, or uncooked meat, or firearms, and yet I constantly find myself wanting to turn the wheel and head for the Red Channel. It always feels like an admission of failure to come back from the Continent and have nothing to show for it. . . . Have you anything to declare? Yes, I'd like to declare a small case of French flu, a dangerous fondness for Flaubert, a childish delight in French road - signs, and a love of the light as you look north. Is there any duty to pay on any of these? There ought to be.

"Oh, and I've got this cheese, too. . . .

Friday, April 6, 2018

Always Skeptical Never Cynical

Our Schools in West Philadelphia:

Alexander Wilson ~ Public School
Where Ben & Sam attended Montessori Pre - K

Samuel Powel ~ Public School
Where Ben attended 1st Grade

Previously University City New School
Where Ben attended 2nd & 3rd grade;
and Sam attended Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade

Avery D. Harrington ~ Public School
53rd & Baltimore
Old Entrance

New Entrance

I include this one because it is just a few blocks
from our house at 48th & Baltimore,
where we lived from 1993 - 2001
and where the Harrington Family lived from 1916 - 1934
Avery Draper Harrington & his wife Emma L. Harrington
followed by their son Avery Draper Harrington, Jr.
& his wife Matilda R. Metz Harrington
[see also: Avery R. Harrington
& his wife Carolyn Beckenbaugh Harrington]


When speaking at Purdue earlier this year,
former Governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey,
offered the following advice:

"maintain skepticism; always question
avoid cynicism; never lose hope
look for the correlation between effort and results
avoid the vortex of self pity
ask for help
let someone love you
freedom is not phony
protesting is an act of strength not weakness"


A related message from
Tim Kreider:

"And cynicism is also a kind of faith:
the faith that nothing can change,
that those institutions are corrupt
beyond all accountability,
immune to intimidation or appeal."


In light of the above, I recently read the following,
by two hard - working, inspiring authors
improving the world through words and deeds
bearing witness to injustice yet avoiding cynicism
while maintaining skepticism of the status quo and offering hope
for fair housing and equitable education in the United States:

1. Suggested by my friend Mumbi; related to her work
as a teacher in the New Jersey Public School System:

Teaching in the Terrordome:
Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America

by Heather Kirn Lanier (2012)
I was an irony - loving child of the eighties, prone to sarcasm, suspicious of Hallmark, and I believed that we were, all of us, a little broken. how could I "save" anyone?

And yet. And yet, the world was still broken. And thousands of of idealistic college graduates -- yes, many of whom were white -- were willing to help, or at least try. I had landed in my generation's postmodernist predicament; even if . . . our ways of trying to fix things might say more about our own brokenness than the targets of our salvation, couldn't and shouldn't we still do something?

Educational inequity is our nation's greatest injustice. You can change this
. (emphasis in original, 19)

Nobody had claimed that they'd taken their tenth graders and risen them three or four grade - levels in their short semester, maybe because their are limits to what a teacher can achieve in a given semester. Maybe because by the time students get to high school, too many habits are learned, too many paths are laid down, too many behaviors are carved.

Did I honestly believe that? The idealist in me, a pom-pom waving crusader of just causes, a prominent part of myself before I started Teach For American, would have said no. Absolutely not. There are no limits to humanity. But I mourned that I now had a newly born realist lurking inside, a jaded woman who felt simultaneously angry that each story didn't end in redemption, and tired of believing that it could. Yes, she thought. Some things were probably impossible.
(emphasis in original, 213 - 14)

2. Suggested by my son Ben; related to his research
of mortgage trends and voting rates in the United States:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond (2017)
Still, I wonder sometimes what we are asking when we ask if findings apply elsewhere. Is it that we really believe that something could happen in Pittsburgh but never in Albuquerque, in Memphis but never in Dubuque? The weight of evidence is in the other direction, especially when it comes to problems as big and as widespread as urban poverty and unaffordable housing. This study took place in the heart of a major American city [Milwaukee], not in an isolated Polish village or a brambly Montana town or on the moon. (333 - 34)

We have affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen because we have recognized that human dignity depends on the fulfillment of these fundamental human needs. And it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart. . . . we could still afford to offer this crucial benefit to all low - income families in America. . . . it is well within our capacity. We have the money. We've just made the choices about how to spend it. Over the years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have restricted housing aid to the poor but expanded it to the affluent in the form of tax benefits for homeowners. . . . If poverty persists in American, it is not for lack of resources. (300, 311 - 12)

If we acknowledge that housing is a basic right of all Americans, then we must think differently about another right: the right to make as much money as possible by providing families with housing -- and especially to profit excessively from the less fortunate. (305)

~ Read more: New York Times ~ April 7, 2018 ~

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Makin' a list, checkin’ it twice . . .

Who would you nominate for real life?

My friend Eve had some great suggestions: "As for fiction -- hmm -- let’s start by giving Dorothea Brooke a do-over. . . . How about Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator of A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark? She is a perennial personal favorite of mine. If you don’t know her, you must meet her soon as possible."

Eve also suggested Molly and Leopold Bloom, which made me think that the little unnamed narrator from "Araby," so earnest in his devotion, should also be included. We also gave a "Thumbs up for both Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway!"

I voted for Nick, as in -- "You can't repeat the past" -- Carraway, and for Jay -- "Why of course you can" -- Gatsby. Impassioned Gatsby, with his dreams and his good intentions -- would he fare better in the real world than he did in fiction? Perhaps only a fictional character can believe in repeating the past.

In more recent reading, I might nominate:

the two little sisters Willa and Bird from
The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows

In their innocence, they struggle to understand the dis - connect
between history and reality, between fiction and non - fiction:

Bird: That's awful . . . I wanted a happy ending.

It's history, Jottie reminded her.
You don't get what you want.

Reality is always so bleak, Mae sighed.
Willa: In books . . . things were connected; people did something and then something else happened because of that. I could understand them. But outside, here in the real world, things seemed to happen for no reason that I could see. Maybe there was no reason. Maybe people just drifted here and there, aimless and silly. . . . there must be something to know, reasons, all the time and everywhere, for the way they behaved. Reasons I couldn't see yet, no matter how hard I tried. I had always hoped that Jottie would call me into her room and tell me the secret, the thing I needed to know to understand people did the things they did. So far she hadn't. When she called me into her room to explain where babies came from, I thought I was about to get wind of something good, but I was disappointed. What I wanted was bigger, a giant blanket that would hold the world. I had become ferocious and devoted so I could learn the secret truths, but I still didn't know them. (374)

Aunt Jottie: And Willa, she's something else. Smart as a whip, but she takes things hard, you know? She struggles. By herself, too; she doesn't ask for help. She wants to understand everything, wants to make sense of things and God knows, plenty of things don't make much sense --" (388)

2. And how about Theo and Boris from
The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt

Are they worthy of "real" life?
I guess we'll know soon enough, because the
movie adaptation is going to be here in no time!

From such a dense novel, I have culled these
lovely descriptions of the painting itself and the
message it carries from past to present to future:
Steadily the goldfinch gazed at me, with shiny, changeless eyes. The wooden panel was tiny . . . When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a flickering sun-struck instant that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch’s ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature — fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place. (305-06)

There’s only a tiny heartbeat and solitude, bright sunny wall and a sense of no escape. Time that doesn’t move, time that couldn’t be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. Time that doesn't move, time that couldn't be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. . . . And, in this staunch little portrait, it's not hard to see the human in the finch. Dignified, vulnerable. One prisoner looking at another. . . . The bird looks out at us. It's not idealized or humanized. It's very much a bird. Watchful, resigned. There's no moral or story. There's no resolution. There's only a double abyss: between painter and imprisoned bird; between the record he left of the bird and our experience of it, centuries later. . . . Across those unbridgeable distances—between bird and painter, painting and viewer — I hear only too well what’s being said to me . . . across four hundred years of time . . . It’s there in the light-rinsed atmosphere, the brush strokes . . . the slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint and yet also feather and bone. It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and its opposite are equally true. (766)

And I’m hoping there’s some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it . . . Because -- what if that particular goldfinch (and it is very particular) had never been captured or born into captivity, displayed in some household where the painter Fabritius was able to see it? It can never have understood why it was forced to live in such misery: bewildered by noise (as I imagine), distressed by smoke, barking dogs, cooking smells, teased by drunkards and children, tethered to fly on the shortest of chains. Yet even a child can see its dignity; thimble of bravery, all fluff and brittle bone. Not timid, not even hopeless, but steady and holding its place. Refusing to pull back from the world. (767)
The Goldfinch ~ 1654
by Carel Fabritius ~ 1622 – 1654

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I Should Have Read the Book First

. . . before it got carved up!
. . . and before watching the movie!
Book Sculpture ~ Rachel's Hobby

Any Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl fans out there? I need to read this book!

The movie has a great subplot of mini parody movies that some viewers might actually enjoy more than the movie itself. I tried to find a youtube clip of just the mini - movies, but no luck. This explanation about the making of them will give you some idea.

The titles alone are hilarious!

A partial list follows:

• “Anatomy of a Burger,” based on 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” directed by Otto Preminger.

• “Ate 1/2 (Of My Lunch),” based on “8 1/2,” directed by Federico Fellini.

• “A Box O’ Lips, Wow,” based on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

• “The Battle of All Deer,” based on “The Battle of Algiers,” by Gillo Pontecorvo.

• “Breathe Less,” based on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

• “Burden of Screams,” based on Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams.”

• “Can’t Tempt,” based on Godard’s “Contempt.”

• “Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat,” based on Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

• “Death in Tennis,” based on Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice.”

• “My Dinner With Andre the Giant,” based on Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre.”

• “Don’t Look Now Because a Creepy Ass Dwarf Is About to Kill You!! Damn!!!” based on Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.”

• “Eyes Wide Butt,” based on Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

• “Hairy, Old and Mod,” based on Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.”

• “La Gelee,” based on Chris Marker’s “La Jetèe.”

• “Gone With My Wind,” based on Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind.”

• “Grumpy Cul-de-Sacs,” based on Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

• “It’s a Punderful Life,” based on Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

• “The Janitor of Oz,” based on Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

• “The Lady Manishness,” based on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.”

• “Monorash,” based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

• “My Best Actor Is Also a Dangerous Lunatic,” based on Werner Herzog’s “My Best Fiend.”

• “Nose Ferret 2,” based on F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.”

• “Pooping Tom,” based on Powell’s “Peeping Tom.”

• “Rear Wind,” based on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

• “Rosemary Baby Carrots,” based on Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

• “Senior Citizen Cane,” based on Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

• “The Seven Seals,” based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”

• “A Sockwork Orange,” based on Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

• “Vere’d He Go?” based on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

• “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” based on John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy.”

See further: A guide to fun movie references in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl / Austin Movie Blog: "Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has slipped in lots of sly movie references . . . related to the director’s past — his association with Martin Scorsese . . . ."

Sunday, January 28, 2018

An Admirable Sense of Priorities

Illustration of the Holy Family
​From The Besancon Book of Hours
15th Century France
Among our perrenial favorites is this card from Gerry's Auntie Jan. Inside she has written: "A Saint Joseph with an admirable sense of priorities, holding the Baby so that Mary can do a little reading!" Don't you love that? Meanwhile the donkey appears to be nibbling Joseph's halo!


Thanks to fellow reader & blogger Samuel Lopez
for reviewing these "5 Short Stories for the Holidays"
and including some of my favorites!


To close out the season,
I re-read another old fav:

by Holly J. Burkhalter

and then tried something new by the same author:

Good God, Lousy World, and Me:
The Improbable Journey of a Human
Rights Activist from Unbelief to Faith


Additional serious non - fiction for the New Year,
including suggestions from Beata, Cate, Dodie, Heather:

Rising Strong:
The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

by Brené Brown

Life Without Envy:
Ego Management for Creative People

by Camille DeAngelis

Dare To Forgive:
The Power of Letting Go and Moving On

by Edward M. Hallowell

Make Peace With Anyone: Breakthrough Strategies
to Quickly End Any Conflict, Feud, or Estrangement

by David J. Lieberman

Anatomy of the Spirit:
The Seven Stages of Power and Healing

by Caroline Myss

Daring to Trust:
Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

by David Richo

Becoming Wise:
An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

by Krista Tippett

Friday, December 15, 2017

Everything by Kent Haruf

The Main Street of Fictional Holt, Colorado
~ IRL Salida ~

For more information on
American novelist Kent Haruf (1943 - 2014)
see my post

"Not the Husband, Not the Fathe

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

The Tie That Binds (1984)
"Now I don’t pretend to think that a mere stretch of six years is anywhere near enough time. But I suppose if that’s all you’re given and no more, then six years will have to do. In the end that’s what Edith Goodnough had: she had six years of what you may call fun. Or good times. Or better, just the day - in, day - out mean rich goodness of being alive, when at night you lie down in the warm dark pleased with your corner of the world, and then you wake the next morning still pleased with it, and you know that, too, while you lie there for a time listening in peace to the mourning doves calling from the elm trees and telephone lines, until finally the thought of black coffee moves you up out of bed and down the stairs to the kitchen stove, so that once again you can begin it all afresh, with pleasure, with eagerness even” (165).

Where You Once Belonged (1990)
"At Holt County Union High School -- it was redbrick too and three stories high as the grade school had been, but it stood at the south end of Main Street and it was more ambitious architecturally; it had square turrets at both ends and the roof was red tile so that it looked a cross between a prison and somebody's notion of a Mediterranean palace; you could see it from a distance, risen up above the stunted elm trees and hackberries, standing alone at the end of Main as if blocking passage out of town, the practical and symbolic notion of what Holt County thought about higher education, standing there for fifty years and more until in the middle 1960s it was condemned and they tore it down and sold off the old redbrick for backyard patios and borders for zinnia beds and replaced it with a new low one - story pedestrian affair that had a scarcity of windows . . ." (24 - 25).

Plainsong (1999)
"Let me see if I can stand up. Slowly she began to rise from the chair, pushing back with her fisted hands against the armrests. They wanted to help her but didn’t know where she might be touched. At last she stood erect. It’s ridiculous to get so old, she said. It’s stupid and ridiculous. She took up her canes. Stand back so I don’t trip on you. . . . She shuffled into the next room and came back carrying a flat and ragged cardboard box and set it on the table and removed the lid, then she showed them photographs that had been much-handled in the long afternoons and evenings of her solitary life . . . there was a photograph of . . . a slender woman with dark wavy hair in a white gabardine dress.

Who’s that? they said. That lady with him.

Who do you think? she said.

They shrugged. They didn’t know.

That’s me. Couldn’t you guess?

They turned to look at her, examining her face.

That’s how I used to look, she said. I was young once too, don’t you know.
" (148 - 50)

Eventide (2004)
"She got up from bed with the sheet around her and followed him, watching him drive away on the vacant street, seeing him pass under the corner streetlamp, then onto Main and out of sight. Shadows from the lamp were like long stick figures thrown out behind the trees and all along the street were the quiet mute fronts of houses. She sat down in the dark room. An hour later she woke shivering and went back to her bed. . . .

And farther away, outside of town, out on the high plains, there would be the blue yardlights shining from the tall poles at all the isolated farms and ranches in all the flat treeless country, and presently the wind would come up, blowing across the open spaces, traveling without obstruction across the wide fields of winter wheat and across the ancient native pastures and the graveled county roads, carrying with it a pale dust as the dark approached and the nighttime gathered round
" (224, 300).

Benediction (2013)
"Sounds like a mixed blessing, Lyle said.
Dad looked at him. Yes sir. Lots of things turn out to be blessings that got mixed up.
" (78)

"All life is moving through some kind of unhappiness, isn't it.
I don't know. I didn't used to think so.
But there's some good too, Willa said. I insist on that.
There are some brief moments, Alene said. This is one of them.
" (194)

"Well, you sure got you a real fine nice big house here. You done all right that way, didn't you. This is a real nice big pleasing satisfying house you got here.
I worked for it, Dad said.
Well sure. Of course. I know, the old man said. Had some luck too, I believe.
I had some luck. But I worked hard. I earned it.
Yeah. Sure. Most people work hard. It's not only that now, is it. You had you some luck.
Goddamn it, I had some luck too, Dad said, but I earned the luck.
" (227)

Our Souls at Night (2015)
"Aren’t you afraid of death?
Not like I was. I’ve come to believe in some kind of afterlife. A return to our true selves, a spirit self. We’re just in this physical body till we go back to spirit.
I don’t know if I believe that, Addie said. Maybe you’re right. I hope you are.
We’ll see, won’t we. But not yet.
No, not yet, Addie said. I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark.
" (128 - 29)

"You can't fix things, can you, Louis said.
We always want to. But we can't. . . .

What did you tell me? Something about not being able to fix people's lives.
That was for you, she said. Not for me.
I see, Louis said.
" (144, 151).


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Happy Bookgiving

This classic, as seen in a shop window in Dublin a couple of years ago, would make a great gift. I should have gone in and purchased it, but alas I was trying to travel light and passed up the chance. Looks like amazon has a few vintage copies as well as a re-released edition.


These quaint old - American holiday books,
in reprinted editions make great gifts:

"There is a spell on southern Salem [NC], the spell not of a dead past but of a living one, constantly revitalized, so that as one walks these uneven red-brick pavements, one is haunted by memories of long-past Christmases, thoughts of those far times, when in secrecy and fear, the Hidden Seed kept its feast of candles and of anthems, thoughts of happier festivals in Saxony where young Count Zinzendorf offered the heretics the refuge city of Herrnhut, thoughts of brave long-ago love-feasts right here, when a tiny, intrepid band of colonists sang its Christmas chorales in the midst of endless miles of wilderness, while wolves nosed and howled at the cabin door. Along with these Moravian memories come thronging recollections of one's own childhood Christmases in all their unforgotten wizardry, so that here in Christmas Salem, I seem to be walking again the midnight aisle which leads through a great wood of fir trees looming black beneath high stars." ~Winifred Kirkland



And for the biblio - anglo - philes on your list:

Book ~ Charlecote Park
An almost idyllic reminiscence of growing up
in the Elizabethan / Victorian grandeur of Charlecote Park,
as told by the last family of children to live there:
"One by one the children would grow old enough to being dining regularly with their parents in the evening. None of them would enjoy it. All this lay ahead. But the children knew that the summer holidays just past were probably the last of a kind. . . . So very much was always expected of the children of the house . . . they knew they were growing up because of the childhood memories that seemed to be accumulating behind them. When they were together, they quite often began sentences with, 'Do you remember--?' " (63, 84, 97).
Their childhood innocence is overtaken by a
growing awareness of gender and social inequity,
the coming of World War I, and the fruitless resistance
to the inevitable arrival of the 20th Century:
"The last carriage left; the park gates were shut. A great silence wrapped Charlecote Hall again; the whole place seemed to sink into sleep, as the sun went down. Even the cooing of pigeons and the occasional notes of other birds had ceased. Only the gentle sound of the River Avon continued. It was difficult to believe that the world outside this world was not also at peace" (111).
". . . The house remembers . . . " (126).

Matching Gift Tin
Charlecote Gatehouse

Yes, I do in fact own one of these tins, purchased as a souvenir
in 1979, when I visited Charlecote on my first trip to England.

[Another old house book by Philippa Pearce ~ Tom's Midnight Garden]