I'm always looking for partners in reading, and my hope is to make this journey more collaborative! If you'd like to read a selection with me, click on this link and enter your name next to the book(s). Enter your contact info if you want me to send you a reminder email when I start the book, or check the date column to see when I've started. Feel free to choose as many as you like, and I'll share your thoughts on the book alongside my post!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of short stories and novels (56 and 4, respectively, to be precise) which feature the consulting detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The great majority of these stories are told by Dr. John Watson, a close friend who assists Holmes with cases and acts as a de facto biographer and storyteller. Sherlock is a brilliant, eccentric, sometimes neurotic, but eminently lovable hero, and Watson winkles his way into the heart of the reader with his courage, his continuously offered friendship, and his steadfast willingness to let Sherlock use (and abuse) him. The tales are often similar, but never twice the same, and you earn a few morsels of detail and personality about the inhabitants of 221B Baker Street and their comings and goings with each new chronicle. The cases are full of adventure, intrigue, and, more often than not, danger, but what pulls the reader back to the next installment is not the complex chase scenes or the oft-required revolvers, but the feeling that you have been granted entry to the intimate coterie of Holmes and Watson and their marvelous world of whimsy.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Dear readers,
    It has been a long time since I have blobbed. Did you miss me? I was exploring the magnificent world of detection and deduction, and I savoured each and every moment. If you haven't read any Holmes, stop what you're doing (this instant! I mean it! anybody want a peanut?), hit the library or the nearest bookstore, and get yourself a copy of the collection. Your collection probably won't be complete (I'm not being snotty - I have three large tomes and between them I was still missing the last 12 stories and had to read them online - thanks, ebooks!) but that's perfectly fine! They don't really require that you read them in order, and their chronology differs from their publication order, in any case.
    I completely understand the obsession with Holmes now, and the stories were impeccably constructed, thoughtfully organized, and delightfully playful. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the collection.

Gossip Girl

The feedback loop - on Holmes (avec Watson) in his many forms
One of my fears in reading this series was that I would have the modern-day Watsons and Holmeses swimming around omnipresently in my brain, and they would cloud my imagining capacity and preclude me from creating my own images of the beloved pair.
     But never fear, blog enthusiasts - the opposite happened! My knowledge of at least three pairs of H and W did not detract from, but rather enriched my internal sketch of the famous duo. I even watched some recent "Elementary" episodes and started watching "Sherlock", which I had not begun prior to reading, and found that I was not stuck with Benedict Cumberbatch bouncing around as Holmes in my brain when I went back to reading, and I loved the various tidbits from the books that I saw effortlessly and beautifully recreated in the series.

I think this is in part because (a) recent updaters of the Doyle series have been very talented and quite thoughtful and thorough about their scripts, scenery, and casting, and (2) they have been playful in the same spirit of the series when they do choose to take liberties or expand upon Doyle's original intentions. Here are a few comments on each pairing that struck me as I read:

Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes
Jude Law as Watson
"Sherlock Holmes" and "A Game of Shadows"
- Key details about Moriarty on point (Mathematician, professor, 2nd hand man Sebastian Moran)

- Most physically accurate Mycroft (imho)

- Brilliant use of slo-mo to walk viewers through Holmes's thoughts (and epic boxing scenes)

Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes
Martin Freeman as Watson
- Intro meeting between Holmes and Watson is a delightfully updated version of the exact beginning to Study in Scarlet

- Hilarious details included from book (keeping correspondence stabbed with a dagger on the mantle)

- Beautiful use of text and video editing to display Holmes's deductions (ex: navigating the streets of London at hyperspeed)

Johnny Lee Miller as Holmes
Lucy Liu as Watson
- Thoughtful extrapolation of Holmes's mentioned semi-recreational, semi-addicted use of cocaine; if you haven't seen this version, Lucy Liu (as Watson) is a retired surgeon turned 'sober companion', and she first encounters Holmes and moves in with him because she is facilitating his transition out of rehab for drug use. I thought that the addiction was taking artistic license, but realized after reading the series that it was spot on. Watson is even referenced as 'helping Holmes break his habit' of using cocaine to divert himself in times of lethargy and boredom.

- I like that Watson is a woman, but they keep the relationship strictly platonic. It adds a level of nuance, but otherwise stays quite true to the construct of the pairing.

- Amusing details included here - Holmes as beekeeper, single-stick expert, boxer, and corpse defiler (for detective practice, of course).

And now, may I present to you, the cast of characters from this delightful 40-year literary romp through detective-land:

First and foremost, Holmes (in his many moods and forms):
What I love about Holmes is that he has certain highly predictable traits (his unpredictability, for example, his odd sleeping patterns, his affinity for playing violin tunes of his own creation), but these are paired with more dynamic characteristics (his flair for the dramatic, his propensity for disguise, his surprising and sporadic bursts of humility). This yields a marvelously multidimensional character that is painstakingly developed like a patchwork quilt over the course of the cases.

Holmes, the performer
Holmes is always willing to pass on the public accolades for solving difficult cases, but he does like the occasional audience. ;)
"Lestrade and I [Watson] sat silent for a moment, and then, with a spontaneous impulse, we both broke out clapping as at the well-wrought crisis of a play. A flush of colour sprang to Holmes’s pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience. 'Well,' said Lestrade, 'I’ve seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don’t know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that. We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.'

Holmes, the hoarder
Holmes likes to be surrounded by his things, and he does not enjoy being separated from them:
"My friend’s temper had not improved since he had been deprived of the congenial surroundings of Baker Street. Without his scrap-books, his chemicals, and his homely untidiness, he was an uncomfortable man."

Holmes, the addict
This is a fascinating aspect to Holmes, and one that feels familiar to me. Not the addiction, per se, but the instability of the brain at rest. Those who know me well know that I thrive on activity, whether it is work or a productive form of rest (knitting, quilting, reading), and I identified with Holmes's discomfort with idleness. Watson's watchful eye to these dangerous times was deeply endearing.
"Things had indeed been very slow with us, and I had learned to dread such periods of inaction, for I knew by experience that my companion’s brain was so abnormally active that it was dangerous to leave it without material upon which to work. For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead, but sleeping; and I have known that the sleep was a light one and the waking near when in periods of idleness I have seen the drawn look upon Holmes’s ascetic face, and the brooding of his deep-set and inscrutable eyes."

Holmes, the critic
Holmes can be a bit of a meanie to Watson, but it's their thing, so I guess it's OK.
"'I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost finesse and delicacy in order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader.' 'Why do you not write them yourself?' I said, with some bitterness. 'I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a text-book which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.'" Oh, OK, Holmes. Suuure. ;)

Holmes, judge and jury
Occasionally, Holmes reserves the right to withhold the results of his investigations...
"Once or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience."

Holmes, the cryptic
Holmes is the worst best at leaving helpful notes for ickle Watsonkins. Here is one of my favorites:
"Am dining at Goldini’s Restaurant, Gloucester Road, Kensington. Please come at once and join me there. Bring with you a jemmy, a dark lantern, a chisel, and a revolver.
ahaaghahgahghaghaghagh OK. no pRoblem, Holmesy.

Holmes, the sneak
One of the dullard policemen, to Holmes:
“How do you know that?”
“I followed you.”
“I saw no one.”
“That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.

Holmes, the softie
Holmes likes to pretend he only takes on cases if they are interesting/challenging enough to tempt him, but in truth, he is a big old softie. Here's a client, begging him to take on his case:
“But he would never cease talking of it—your kindness, sir, and the way in which you brought light into the darkness. I remembered his words when I was in doubt and darkness myself. I know you could if you only would.” That reminded me of this exchange from Dracula:

Van Helsing, to Mina: "There are darknesses in life, and there are lights; you are one of the lights." Holmes brings light into the darkness, just like Mina.

Holmes, the monographer (not a word? I don't care. (said Pierre))

Here is an amusing image I found of some of Holmes's monographs. He seems to always have one up his sleeve. Oh, differentiating things that are the color that rhymes with 'urple'? Have one on that. Learning to tell whether someone is lying based on their smell? Have one on that.

Holmes, the jokester
“It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal.” Enough said.

Moriarty, Holmes's evil twin:
I have to admit I was a little disappointed that Moriarty didn't have more of a starring role in the stories. I think the updated versions do an excellent job of weaving Moriarty more consistently into the storyline, as Doyle leaves this a bit dangly in the stories/novels. He uses the non-chronological nature of the stories to dive in and out of the Moriarty plotline here and there, but I wanted a more fleshed out mind-battle between Sherlock and Moriarty. Holmes is a tad obsessed with him, in a mildly disturbing way:
"But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law—and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations—that's the man!" OK, Holmes, let's cool your jets. He's a bad, bad man, remember?

Mycroft, a.k.a. the only other Holmes we know:
Mycroft, for those of you unfamiliar with the stories, is Holmes's brother. He is described as matching (if not surpassing) Holmes in deductive brilliance, but without any interest in the activity required to solve cases. Apparently Mycroft has only been to Baker Street twice, and Watson assumes Holmes has no family at all until one day he mentions Mycroft out of the blue. Here are a few tidbits:

"All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience."

"Possibly, Sherlock. But it is a question of getting details. Give me your details, and from an armchair I will return you an excellent expert opinion. But to run here and run there, to cross-question railway guards, and lie on my face with a lens to my eye—it is not my metier. No, you are the one man who can clear the matter up." Hahgahghag, no that would require effort. I'm good, thanks.

Watson, the stubborn
Despite Holmes's various (and often disturbing) requests, there are times when even Holmes doesn't want to endanger Watson by involving him in his harebrained schemes. Watson, to his credit, never says die:

“Well, I don’t like it; but I suppose it must be,” said I [Watson].
"When do we start?”
“You are not coming.”
“Then you are not going,” said I.
“I give you my word of honour —and I never broke it in my life—that I will take a cab straight to the police-station and give you away unless you let me share this adventure with you.”
“You can’t help me.”
“How do you know that? You can’t tell what may happen. Anyway, my resolution is taken. Other people beside you have self-respect and even reputations.” hagh!
Holmes had looked annoyed, but his brow cleared, and he clapped me on the shoulder.
“Well, well, my dear fellow, be it so. We have shared the same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell. You know, Watson, I don’t mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of my lifetime in that direction." adorbsable. bffs in crime.

Watson, the insensible
"It is not for me, my dear Watson, to stand in the way of the official police force. I leave them all the evidence which I found. The poison still remained upon the talc had they the wit to find it. Now, Watson, we will light our lamp; we will, however, take the precaution to open our window to avoid the premature decease of two deserving members of society, and you will seat yourself near that open window in an armchair unless, like a sensible man, you determine to have nothing to do with the affair. Oh, you will see it out, will you? I thought I knew my Watson." Oh, are we doing an experiment that might end in toxic death? Oh no Problem. Let's do this.

Watson, the jokester
"You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?"
"The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as—"
"My blushes, Watson!" Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.
"I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public."
"A touch! A distinct touch!" cried Holmes. "You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself." aghahgahgahghagahghaghaghaghaghahgahghaghaghaghahga. best. line. ever.

Watson, the whetstone
Sometimes it's hard to assess how Watson fits with Holmes, and he can seem like a mere foil to Holmes's brilliance. I loved this description that Watson provided of their pairing: "[Holmes] was a man of habits, narrow and concentrated habits, and I had become one of them. As an institution I was like the violin, the shag tobacco, the old black pipe, the index books, and others perhaps less excusable. When it was a case of active work and a comrade was needed upon whose nerve he could place some reliance, my role was obvious. But apart from this I had uses. I was a whetstone for his mind. I stimulated him. He liked to think aloud in my presence."

Mrs. Hudson, soon-to-be-sainted
"Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman. Not only was her first-floor flat invaded at all hours by throngs of singular and often undesirable characters but her remarkable lodger showed an eccentricity and irregularity in his life which must have sorely tried her patience. His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London." haghaghaghaghag. I think Sherlock might have had a tough time finding a roommate on Craigslist. ;)

Watson & Sherlock - Best. Friends. Forever.
This nugget, from the one time in the books that Watson gets grazed in the leg by a bullet:

Sherlock: "If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive."

I hope you have enjoyed this meandering journey through London sleuthery. I'll leave you with this fantastic note from H to W:

"Come at once if convenient—if inconvenient come all the same."
— S. H.

Happy holidays, and happy reading! I'm off to embark on Glee Bungalow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Keep passing the open windows.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Hotel New Hampshire is the story of the Berry family and the series of events that precede and follow their ownership of a collection of not particularly successful hotels, each of which bears the titular name. The novel takes the family from the Granite State, to Austria, to the Big Apple, and eventually to Maine. It is a story of the love - often comical, sometimes painful, yet always redeeming - that the Berry family shares, and their adventures in this frequently absurd game we call life.

For reference, the Berry family tree (forgive the gender normative color choices to indicate the sex of a character, but it seemed the simplest way to denote it - Egg isn't exactly an obvious one ;) ).

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Greetings, readers! It has been quite some time since I've written a post, and I admit I took my time with Hotel New Hampshire. It was partly because I was enjoying Irving, and partly because I was feeling a bit at sea about having completed my first list and embarking on my new one. I thought I would feel an overwhelming sense of pleasure when I finished my first list, but I felt a deep sadness at having to say goodbye to those first 100. That said, if I don't move forward, I can't make the acquaintance of other, potentially equally pleasurable novels! (And that will throw her in the path of Other Rich Men!)

My sister, Diana, did a read-along, and managed to finish right beside me, despite being treMendously busy with that whole third year med student business (birthing babies, etc. etc.) I'll post her thoughts alongside mine so you can compare.

Without further ado, onwards we go!

Primary thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I think it's earned a place among my all-time favorites, and since this was #101 with some pretty heavy hitters, that's saying something. It's definitely a bizarre read, so if you're not inclined toward the theater of the absurd meets Wes Anderson sort of vibe (think prostitutes, incest, taxidermy, political dissidents) then this probably isn't for you. That said, I thought it was brilliant. 

Secondary thoughts: My spoiler alert system is a rather imprecise one, in case you haven't noticed, or are new to this project. I apologize if you are annoyed by this pesky trend, but admit I am unlikely to change my behavior. It can be hard to write about the book without letting you in on some of the secrets of what went down in the book. So I guess this is just to say #sorrynotsorry.

Tertiary thoughts: My plot summaries are often quite short, and rather vague. I find it more fun and less book reportish to capture the essence of a novel, rather than detail the play-by-play. Besides, it's a Breakthrough norm to 'Be crisp. Say what's core.' So there! I'm #winning.

Quaternary thoughts: Did you know what came after tertiary? I didn't. I looked it up. 

On the thoughtful and strategic use of italics
I enjoy employing various methods to ensure that the emPhasis of my words is on the right syllAble, but often find that writers shy away from such methods, either because their editors were sticks in the mud or because they felt bound by convention. In any case, I was delighted by Irving's use of the quite simple and yet so expressive technique of italicizing. Please enjoy this tidbit as an example:

                                                                    When Father decides to put down Sorrow, the family dog:
"Frank did not care for Sorrow, but even Frank seemed saddened by the death sentence.
  'I know he smells bad,' Frank said, but that's not exactly a fatal disease.'
 'In a hotel it is', Father said. 'That dog has terminal flatulence.'
 ' And he is old,' Mother said.
 'When you get old,' I told Mother and Father, 'we won't put you to sleep.'
ahghaghaghaghaghahgahgahag. I in this case is John, as he is our narrator. Wasn't that nice of him? ;) The dog in Hyperbole and a Half (featured on the left) is what I imagine Sorrow to look like, btw. 

On good old-fashioned concrete chapters
I loved that this book had such clearly delineated chapters. Each one could almost stand alone as its own mini-novella, and it made the slowpoke reading experience I opted for quite pleasurable. It not only allowed me, but encouraged me, to slow down with my reading, and take the book literally (Chris Traeger voice) one chapter at a time.

On a good old-fashioned incestual romance
Oh I'm sorry is that not a thing? Brothers and sisters aren't supposed to fall in love? Listen to Armande - don't worry so much about not supposed to! OK, well I suppose there are lots of reasons why we don't condone incest as a society, and certainly not as a widespread phenomenon, but there was a poignant kind of beauty to Franny and John's love for each other. Irving made it feel forbidden, but also almost...expected, matter-of-fact. Like why wouldn't a brother and sister who are the closest siblings in a large family who protect and care for each other not also feel something more for each other?

On families, and how despite the supreme curveballs of life, it sounds the same note
I fell hard for the Berry family. I was definitely thrown for a loop when the transition to Austria happened, but Irving kept me on board. I loved their strangeness, but also the fact that no matter how odd they seemed, they were a family, and their bond was achingly permanent.

Here are two of my favorite examples of this:
#1 - When Frank, the cymbal-playing oddball of the family, intervenes to help John save Franny from her psycho crush who is trying to force himself on her, after she has saved Frank from humiliation and bullying: "Frank clashed his damn cymbals together  (in said crush's face)- so startlingly loud that I thought an airplane was flying into another airplane above us...Frank continued to clash his cymbals together - as if this were a ritual dance that our family always practiced prior to slaughtering an enemy." ahgahgahgaghahgahgahghaghg. oh yes - the ritual Berry cymbal dance!

#2 - 
"When Lilly and Egg and Father came home from the game, Franny and I put Egg in the dumbwaiter and hauled him up and down the four-story shaft until Frank ratted on us and Father told us that the dumbwaiter would be used only for removing linen and dishes and other things - not humans - from the rooms." typical sibling shenanigans ;) 

#3 - "'You see,' Franny would explain, years later, 'we aren't eccentric; we're not bizarre. 'To each other,' Franny would say, 'we're as common as rain.' And she was right; to each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread, we were just a family. In a family, even exaggerations make perfect sense; they are always logical exaggerations, nothing more." God, I LOVE the smell of bread.

And now, I give you a brief review of les trois hôtels de New Hampshire:

#1 - Dairy, NH
- Constructed out of the remains of the Thompson Female Seminary (a school)
- Featuring the 'outhouse for elves' (think miniature toilet facilities for young children)
- Frequented by Ronda Ray & her 'dayroom' - an employee, as well as John's first, well, you know
- Complete with intercom between rooms, much to the Berry children's maniacal delight
- Rounded out by Iowa Bob lifting weights in his room, huffing and puffing away

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from numero uno:
  • Iowa Bob, to guests, on the fact that the chairs are screwed down because it used to be a school:"Just hold on to your seats! Nothing moves at the Hotel New Hampshire! We're screwed down here - for life!"
  • "Father bought Frank a bus driver's uniform, because Frank was so fond of uniforms; Frank would wear it when he played doorman at the Hotel New Hampshire. On those rare occasions when we had more than one overnight guest, Frank liked to pretend that there was always a doorman at the Hotel New Hampshire. The bus driver's uniform was the good old Dairy death-gray color; the pants and the jacket sleeves were too short for Frank, and the cap was too large, so that Frank had an ominous, seedy-funeral-parlor look to him when he let in the guests." haghagha yessssss, perfect, Frank. 'Welcome to the Hotel New Hampshire!' he practiced saying, but it always sounded as if he didn't mean it."
#2 - Vienna, Austria
- Featuring the unforgettable Freud (not the Freud, but better, imho); the man who convinces Winslow Berry to sell his first HNH and start a second one in Austria, of all places
- Guarded by Susie the Bear (note: not a real bear. human bear. much stranger.)
- Permanent home to a bevy of prostitutes and a pack of political dissidents
- Easy access to delicious coffee, with schlagobers of course

Choice telegrams from Freud to Winslow:
  • On the political dissidents:"Their typewriters bother the bear." Especially amusing when you remember that the bear is not a real bear. 
#3 - Arbuthnot, Maine
Please note: this HNH is not, in fact, a real hotel. It is a ruse imagined and perpetuated by John and the rest of the children, which is successful largely because at this point Win Berry has lost his sight. It is on the grounds of a resort hotel that Win Berry used to work at in Maine, and could be a hotel if it Wanted to. (Just like I could have been sick all night)

My favorite snippets from le troisième HNH:
  • "The third Hotel New Hampshire had lots of unpaying guests." The third HNH becomes a rape crisis center, and a general refuge for rape victims (this has to do with Susie the not-bear and her future with John). 
  • "With a degree in American literature from Vienna, I could do worse than become the caretaker of my father's illusions." I love this line. :0)
  • "Reading aloud to someone is one of this world's pleasures." This always makes me think of Jo March reading to her Aunt March, and makes me wish I had someone to read to.
  • "Occasionally, tourists get lost and find us; they see the sign and think we are a hotel. I have explained to Father a very complicated system that our 'success' in this hotel business has afforded us. When the lost tourists find us and ask for rooms, we ask them if they have reservations. They say no, of course, but invariably - looking around themselves, at the silence, at the abandoned quality of peace we have achieved at the third Hotel New Hampshire - they ask, 'But surely you have vacancies?' 'No vacancies,' we always say. No reservations, no vacancies.'' Hagh. Sometimes I feel that way about my brain. No reservations, no vacancies. Tant pis!
  • Everyone else knows that the HNH is a rape crisis center, but part of the irony is that Win Berry, the only one not in the know, is often the kindest and most helpful supporter of women who frequent the HNH. Susie the Bear/notbear often sends women to the dock to see 'the blind man and seeing eye dog #4'. The metaphor of a hotel seems to fit quite nicely into the idea of a gentle recovery from trauma. Here's Win Berry:
"A good hotel turns space and atmosphere into something generous, into something sympathetic - a good hotel makes those gestures that are like touching you, or saying a kind word to you, just when (and only when) you need it. A good hotel is always there, but it doesn't ever give you the feeling that it's breathing down your neck."

A collection of my favorite moments:
  • Exchange between Franny and John, after Franny has been gang raped:  "I got up and went to the bathroom door and asked her if there was anything I could get her. 'Thank you,' she whispered. 'Just go out and get me yesterday and most of today. I want them back.'" 
  • Junior Jones, a football player, to Franny, after she has been raped: 'When someone touches you and you don't want to be touched, that's not really being touched - you got to believe me. It's not you they touch when they touch you that way; they don't really get you, you understand. You've still got you inside you."
  • Exchange between Franny and John after they have tried to deny their feelings for each other: "'Do you still love me?' Franny asked.
    'Yes, I can't help it', I said.
    'Poor you,' said Franny.
    'Poor you, too,' I told her.'"
  • Franny, looking for her sweater: "'Egg, what did you do with my green sweater?'
     'What?' Egg said.
    'My green sweater!' Franny screamed.
     'I don't have a green sweater,' Egg said.
     'It's my green sweater!' Franny shouted. 'He dressed his bear in it yesterday - I saw it,' Franny told Mother. 'And now I can't find it.'
     'Egg, where's your bear?' Mother asked.
     'Franny doesn't have a bear,' Egg said. 'That's my bear.'
     'Where's my running hat?' I asked Mother. 'It was on the radiator in the hall last night.'
    'Egg's bear is probably wearing it,' Frank said. 'And he's out doing wind sprints.'" ahgahghaghaghaghaI love everything about this exchange. 
Word I learned:
weirs - a low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream or regulate its flow; an enclosure of stakes set in a stream as a trap for fish. my mother and I took a leaf-peeping train a few weeks ago (yes. leaf-peeping is a thing in NH) and it left from a place called Weirs Beach in Meredith, NH.

In closing, I will let you in on a little secret. I am now a firm believer in the idea that a book can come to you at the just right time. This book did that for me. I picked it as a bit of a lark, knowing that my sister Diana has always been a big Garp fan, and bemusedly feeling that I ought to read the only semi-famous work of fiction I know of with New Hampshire in its title while I'm living in the land of the live free or die.

What I found, however, was not only a beautiful work of art, but an intimate companion, and a world where the fictions could not have been more timely to match my own feelings and personal plights. The title is a reference to a sort of morbid but optimistic catchphrase the family passes on to each other from time to time -- it's an allusion to an artist who jumps out of an open window and commits suicide, but leaves a note proclaiming, "Life is serious but art is fun. It is hard work and great art to make life not so serious." I love the confusing poetry of these lines, and the idea that, even in times of great darkness, we can remind each other to simply 'Keep passing the open windows'. [2015 - Survive Alive!] Because Irving is a realist and not remotely bound to the perfect happy ending, one member of the family doesn't manage to keep passing the open windows. But the harmony in the novel's outcome and its ultimate triumph is not in the glamour of a simple and comfortable traditional happy ending, but the messy and raw, yet stunningly brilliant beauty of a complex and nuanced denouement.

I leave you with another of my favorite passages:
"So we dream on. Thus we invent our lives. We give ourselves a sainted mother, we make our father a hero; and someone's older brother, and someone's older sister - they become our heroes, too. We invent what we love, and what we fear. There is always a brave, lost brother - and little lost sister, too. We dream on and on: the best hotel, the perfect family, the resort life. And our dreams escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them."

May you continue to dream vividly and often, keep passing the open windows, and find the book you need to read at the just right time. I'm off to 221B Baker Street! Cheerio!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." -Ray Bradbury


I'm just wrapping up my first project, Conquering the Classics (click here if you're curious) so I haven't started on this list just yet. I'm re-reading I Capture the Castle as a literary palate cleanser before I leap back into the world of Irving. After #100's The Scarlet Letter, I needed something a bit lighter than adultery, ostracism, and eternal damnation. ;)

In the meantime, please click here to view the Google sheet 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.

Have fun exploring the list, and see you in a jiffy!

If you're curious about how I chose the list, here's a summary of my reasons from the reflection post on my other blog:

"The list is designed to feature classics that missed the first list (ahem, imho) as well as classics (or books that could at least loosely be described as such) that were written by authors underrepresented on the first list. Some examples include:
-- Classics by authors of color (particularly African-American authors, but this extends to Latino/Latina authors, Native American authors, international authors from countries other than Russia (sorry T, D, N, and B, no offense!), aboriginal authors, etc.)
-- Less 'conventional' classics, like classic graphic novels (as in featuring cartoon graphics, not the other variety - though that would be fun, too! ;))
-- Classics by women (no offense to Jane, Sylvia, Charlotte, Emily, Virginia, Mary Ann, Harper, Ayn, or the rest of the ladies repped on the first list, but let's be honest, (A) They're almost all white (we had Toni on there, and that is IT) and (B) a whole LOT of them are from Britain. Which is Great, no offense to Britain, but let's EXPAND shall we? The world is way bigger than white America and Great Britain, and (C) Even with the excellent ladies who managed to squeak their way into the literary 'canon' (with fake male names if necessary (looking at you, Mary Ann/George Eliot)), there's nowhere near an equal representation, and the types of stories told can have a tendency to lack a modern woman's perspective.
-- Classics by queer authors, and/or about queer subjects (as in GLBTQ, not odd, though again, FUN!) -- we had a fair amount of latent tension here and there, and some light and mildly kinky BDSM in good ole' Proust (thanks, Marcel!) but other than that, Preeetty low in this category. And Proust was gay himself, but not even really out and certainly not out as a character. So there was clearly room for expansion in this direction, too.
-- Classics by politically repressed/banned/hidden authors - this might seem like an odd choice, but political repression still has a lingering effect on what makes it to our collective consciousness (hello, had Anyone heard of The Master and Margarita before I read it for the blog, other than my Yalie sister Diana?). So I'm throwing in some Rushdie, some Pushkin, some Solzhenitsyn, and works like Suite Française)

Perhaps at this point you are asking that classic follow-up question - WHY? Why should we expand the definition of the canon? Aside from my personal argument that the world is made up of millions of unique stories, and a wealth of stories should be displayed, esteemed, remembered, and read, rather than just the one that was the most powerful, or the most influential, or the most common, or the most privileged to be published, consider this note that I jotted down almost a year ago and left on my bedside table for when the time was right:

It is so important what we choose to write, but also most especially what we choose to read and revere. For the books we deem classics are the legacy we leave for generations to come. And our selection of these classics and what is and isn't a 'classic novel' determines not only what we choose to remember as a society but also what we choose to forget. So never stop reading, never stop evaluating, and never stop challenging what the world tells you you should be reading."