Thursday, February 25, 2016

Climb Inside and Live There

Thanks to my brother Bruce for this Reading Poster!

A few holdovers from 2015, including
Two Thought Provokers

Ghost Boy ~ Martin Pistorius ~ almost impossible to believe, except that it's true! An autobiography of admirable triumph over astonishing odds. By the end, though, I wish the diagnosis of his illness had been revealed. Then again, perhaps it remains unknown to this day.

Homer & Langley ~ E. L. Doctorow ~ the quest for truth is hard enough as it is, why does Doctorow have to complicate matters with make believe facts (in manner of March and Caleb's Crossing -- I do not approve). Even so, his prose is mesmerizing!

On hoarding:
" . . . in our home, a monumental tribute to late Victorian design . . . with its big upholstered pieces, or tufted Empire side chairs, or heavy drapes over the curtains on the ceiling - to - floor windows, or medieval tapestries hung from gilt poles, and bow - windowed bookcases, thick Persian rugs, and standing lamps with tasseled shades and matching chinois amphora . . . it was all very eclectic . . . and cluttered it might have seemed to outsiders, but it seemed normal and right to us and it was our legacy, Langley's and mine, this sense of living with things assertively inanimate, and having to walk around them" (6 - 7, emphasis added).
On life after death:

" . . . remembering my trips to the Woodlawn Cemetery to bury my parents, I could only think of how easily people die. And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin -- an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition" (67, emphasis added).

" . . . on Armistice Day 1918 . . . Of course I was as relieved as anyone that the war was over. But underneath all this gaiety I found myself in an awful sadness. What was the recompense for the ones who had died? Memorial days? In my mind I heard taps.

"We had a joke, Langley and I: Someone dying asks if there is life after death. Yes, comes the answer, only not yours" (100 - 01).

[Along the lines of "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" For further comparison see Sue Miller's novel Family Pictures, 42 - 43]

Three Mysteries

The Tinen Killings: A Novel of Civil War Veterans ~ J.D. Solomon ~ like taking a walking tour of my favorite city! I loved the post - Civil War Philadelphia setting, and the humorous telephone scenes [reminded me of asking my kids to help me figure out my cell phone]:
"But the real reason [Roberts] wouldn't seek out the Bellevue's telephone, he admitted to himself, was that he was totally intimidated by the idea. . . . He'd used a a telephone exactly three times in his life . . . And each time he's had to enlist the help of the youngest deputy in his department. . . .

" 'Why not just call him?' Megan said. 'We can do it from the hotel right after lunch.' She noticed the men seemed reluctant to accept the suggestion. 'For heaven's sake, gentlemen, relax,' she said. 'It's just a telephone call; I'll show you how to do it' " (132, 171).

The Player's Boy is Dead: An Elizabethan Mystery ~ Leonard Tourney ~ a bit disappointed that this was not really about Medieval theater troops, as I was hoping, but still fun.

County Constable Matthew Stock & his wife Joan: "They contemplated this mystery together, neither willing to interrupt the other's thought" (34).

When Matthew & Joan are invited to dine at Saltmarsh Hall:
" 'Tis what you've been waiting for, is it not -- what comes of success in trade, a mingling with a better sort of folk?"

"Aye," she replied thoughtfully. "And yet had I thought the entertainment might make you restless beyond endurance, I would have rested content by our own fire" (58).
Joan assesses Matthew's nature:
"You love the plain road, husband, and could not see perversion were it hanging on our strong oak like a child's bauble. Did it not the more make you fit for my husband, I would lament that your very innocence should so undermine your ability as constable...."

"I have never thought of myself as such, but as a plain man, no better or worse than my fellows."

" 'Tis not virtue I am accusing you of but innocence. They be different."

He laughed again. "And now who plays the moralist?" (70).

The Willow Pattern: A Judge Dee Mystery ~ Robert van Gulik ~ fun to read but just a bit disappointed to find that this novel is not really about the Blue Willow China pattern, as I was hoping -- even the author knows exactly what I mean:

"I admit that the clue of the Willow Pattern
is a very tenuous one" (63).

Eerie vision of the plague of A.D. 677:
"Now the Spirit of Death rules over the Imperial city. A city of fear. . . . In the daytime the only people one sees about are the hooded scavengers dragging along the carts of the dead. And now, at night, there are only shadows. A city of shadows, died out. . . . Yet, deep down below . . . in the slums and cellars of the old city, something is stirring, in the brooding darkness. Can't you feel the mounting miasma of death and decay? It seems to spread over the city like a suffocating shroud" (10 - 11).

"Following the youngster through cavernous halls and long, silent corridors with raftered ceilings blackened by age, he felt increasingly ill at ease. The meeting with this pitiful old lady, sick of body and mind, leading a shadow existence amidst the relics of a phantom - past had shocked him deeply. Even more disturbing, however, was the uncanny, threatening atmosphere of this old, deserted mansion. One fleeting moment he had a vision of himself as an unreal visitor to a very real world that existed one hundred year ago, a sinister age of brutal violence and revolting bloodshed. Was the past usurping the present? Were the dead of the past rising to join the errant souls of the victims of the plague, was this ghostly horde going to take over the silent, empty Imperial capital? And was this then the reason for the strange feeling of fear and foreboding that had got hold of him earlier in the night, when from his terrace he was looking out over the dead city?" (49).
Uncanny description of puppeteer and puppets:
"The only other customer was an elderly man who was sitting alone at the corner table . . . engrossed in the contemplation of the gaudily dressed marionette he held in his hand. Two other puppets were lying on the table in front of him. . . . The puppeteer gave him a scornful look.

"That's because they are only stage villains. In the theater, all actors and actresses are sharply divided into good and bad characters. But my puppets are more than actors, soldier. I want them to be real human beings in miniature. Therefore I don't want a stage villain. Do you get me?" (26 - 27)
The inequitable distribution of the "Five Blessings":
"Money, high office, long life, good health and many children. Why not call this tavern after them, soldier? It's built against the back wall of the last big house of this quarter. Across the streets the slums begin. So this tavern is the boundary stone, so to speak, dividing the five blessings between the rich and the poor. Money, high office, long life and good health for the rich. Many children, too many, for the poor. Four to one. But the poor don't complain, not they! One is enough and to spare -- for them!" (27).

"There'll always be the rulers and the ruled, and the ruled will always come off losers!" (117).
And in closing, sadly:
"She must have done it an hour or so after midnight,
the time when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb" (102).

Chinese Legend
See my previous post:
That Old Blue Willow Has Me in Its Spell

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