Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sadness and jest

NOW FINISHED: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

At some point, there in the haze of it all, I finished this semester's finals. Once I no longer had any law-text-casebook-exam studying-law-law-law-law reading left, I picked up a novel. It was almost frenzied how I went about picking it up. And it was amazing how good it felt to plunge into it. I felt like I was escaping from a day of stress and collapsing back into the most luxurious, soft, silky, five-million-thread-count sheets bed, enveloped in relaxation.

But while buying it I felt law school stress-like fettered, desperate, where-is-it, needy desire to get my hands on it. The allegedly available copy at the Hofstra undergraduate library was missing; two librarians, an assistant, and I searched to no avail. I wandered over to the bookstore not really wanting to pay full price for a book, but really wanting to start reading it on the Long Island Rail Road on my way home from school. I had resigned myself to not being able this semester to getting around to reading any of the books before this year's crop of films (Charlie Wilson's War, Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, No Country for Old Men, etc.) (I've already long since read Beowulf and Into the Wild.) But then I just thought, well, maybe I have time to get through The Kite Runner...I really wanted to read that one before seeing the film...

Behold, in the university bookstore, it was buried in an under table stack but it was 30% off! I felt I had uncovered a treasure. I started reading it on my train ride home and read 100 pages that day. It goes pretty quickly; if you, like me, are imaging it as a very literary piece with difficult language and comlex sentences that move slowly, think again. It's more Hornby-paced than Roth-paced. Kind of like a male version of Elizabeth Berg, gone global. With Judy Blume's teenage precocious hidden wisdom and Maeve Binchy's melancholy accompanying him on the world tour.

OK, so I am not describing the tone that well. But I did enjoy the book, finishing it on the plane to Arizona for Christmas. However, in addition to finishing it on the plane, I also had to actually stop reading and take a breather on the plane, somewhere in the 200 pages, after one of the most good-yet-awful stop-you-in-your-tracks scenes in literature I've read in quite some time. If you've read the book, you will undoubtedly remember. You know, when he goes to the stadium, to make an appointment with the man in the sunglasses. If you haven't read it, I will never spoil it here. The book is good if not great, the writing is occasionally quite touching and occasionally so-so, but the last third is worth reading, and that scene alone should - must - be read by all thinking, feeling people. And perhaps by all unthinking, unfeeling people, that they might reconsider.

Now, I have moved on to my winter "big book," which Brian is also starting now: Infinite Jest. I remember when this came out. I was in L.A. What was that awesome bookstore in Los Feliz...small and independent...I remember they were all hopped up about it. So was one of the women for whom I house-sat. It was totally on my radar as one of those books philosophical, coffee-drinking, hipster-aspiring, college students and twentysomethings who still live like college students should know and love. Therefore it went on my mental to-read list, where it has stayed. To be retrieved now thanks to Brian's getting hopped up about it, and that thanks to Alex. (This paragraph reminds us that Borders is good for some things.)

So far, so good. But I'm thirty pages in out of how many hundreds? I'm not even worthy to comment on it yet.

Friday, November 30, 2007


NOW FINISHED: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer

That's right, I read it! Hurrah! I like the ending a lot, because (spoiler alert!)the narrator main character got his comeuppance. His betrayal of Lourdes was so not OK, and he totally got his just desserts for cheating, and I. LOVE. IT. Quite frankly, I am tired cheating, lies, betrayal. People tend to forget that when you are dishonest, you are also dishonest with yourself. I can't remember the last book I read where the cheater had to face the error of his ways. I am thrilled. This book was "just OK" all along, but the ending made me so happy that I will now officially include more Pico Iyer on my list of things to read.

But when will I read these things? Good question. For the next three weeks it is going to be law school finals and nothing but law school finals. And then, the winter break big book project is a detour from the literary blog project (and an essential one, seeing as I totally abandoned this year's spring/summer big book project halfway through)(that would be Don Q). Brian and I are going to read Infinite Jest. Yay! Merry wacko Christmas to us!

So, I am still only through the letter "I," and my one-year A to Z literary blog project is going to turn into a two-year. I'm so OK with that. It was bound to happen. Have I told you about this Constitutional Law book I have sitting next to me? It's 1,648 pages.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Almost literary blog

Wow, it has been almost a month since I have uttered a literary word here. And no, in that time I have not touched Pico's Cuba and the Night. Lest you think I have not been reading, I will in fact tell you what I have read. It's not all law school all the time. It is a lot of law school a lot of the time, but not all - all. Just some - some. The other reading has consisted of the following, all of which really ramped up mid-October:

1. Magazines.
a. The New Yorker subscription found its way to my new residence, so I dove back in to that with the usual glee that accompanies receiving The New Yorker in the mail. Among other fabulous articles in the last few weeks were Adam Gopnik's thoughts on shortening and extending works of art, the former by abridging books and the latter with DVD extras, notably director's cuts, and a piece on The Wire which has officially convinced me that I need to begin watching that show immediately if not sooner. (And catch up on the prior seasons, duh.)
b. The Economist always occupies a good amount of subway reading time, although I think I'm not going to renew this currently-ending subscription. I got it for kind of free last year, with frequent flier miles, but I don't really want to pay for it.
c. Entertainment Weekly has my undivided attention right now, as we are heading into Oscar season soon. They have even offered up a few early predictions. I will offer up a few early predictions/wishes of my own on my main blog tonight, too.

2. The Almost Moon. And I'll tell you what - I have a lovely bone to pick with Ms. Sebold Thang. I can honestly say there is nary another author whose first novel so made me unquestioningly pick up novel number two. There is nothing quite like The Lovely Bones. But here's the thing: after being blown away by the unique, luminous writing of that book I naturally went right out and read her non-fiction book, Lucky, and that was all kinds of disturbing because when you read it you realize that a lot of that detail of the violent rape in The Lovely Bones came from her real-life experience. (Minus the being murdered and narrating the story from heaven, of course.) And even when I heard that five years later she had another novel coming, I harbored the same fear I had when I first read her, that she would just be trying to up the ante now, trying and failing. Because, really, after The Lovely Bones, can you really just go back to writing a "normal" novel?

So I did, I began reading The Almost Moon the day it came out. And guess what? I was right. All she is doing is showing us that she has come up with something even more shocking and disturbing for a premise, but unfortunately the writing is nowhere near the same quality this time around. I won't say she's a one-hit wonder, as that implies some kind of emptiness or frivolity. I don't know if The Lovely Bones could even be considered a hit. It is just darkness, and every time I read another word of hers, it just sheds more darkness on her darkness. I got past 200 pages in The Almost Moon and then didn't care. I'm glad I borrowed it and didn't buy it. It's terrible. Read The Lovely Bones if you haven't, but don't even bother with The Almost Moon.

And you know what? It didn't have to be like this. I worried, as I said, that it WOULD be like this, but it didn't have to be. If she were a better writer, it would not be like this. And you know how I know that? Nabokov. Good ol' Vladimir is one of the best writers ever. Like, he's maybe in the top ten of the world. And I would say that if there's anything to which I can compare The Lovely Bones, that might have to be Lolita. A novel that flings dark and sadistic desire at an adolescent...a plot that shocks...imaginative, beautiful rendering of horrid things...etc. But after Lolita, Nabokov gave us even more brilliance, such as Pale Fire, and what made it so brilliant was utterly different from what came before. He didn't just pull a key change on us. You know, like in a pop song when they get to the third verse or chorus and can't figure out what to do and the energy is fading (because it's maybe just not that good of a song) so they throw in a key change, which is basically like, "I'm going to sing the exact same thing now, but higher! bigger! bolder!" and everyone falls for it.

That's what Alice Sebold did. She kept singing the same song, but just changed keys. No, thank you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Flying through the symbols with the greatest of ease

NOW READING: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer

Cuba is like a cult. And not because they are both four-letter words that start with "cu." People who travel to Cuba in this day and age, and by that I mean the 80s-90s-00s, become part of this mysterious entity they themselves cannot understand but which they want to push on all their nearest and dearest anyway. In fact, it may be less like a cult and more like, say, Prozac. Only Cuba is real.

Of course one of the things I worry about on the imminent, soon-I-swear, no-really-any-day-now publication of my Cuba book is that it will really be my traveling-to-Cuba story that no one cares about. Like when you have to look at someone's vacation photos and you don't care. And as I've written it sometimes it 's been a novel and sometimes it's been non-fiction, and my writing group and others (rightly so) tell me to stop categorizing it and just finish writing the damn thing. Still I feel I need to understand what it is I'm trying to say, or else it will end up like Pico Iyer's Cuba and the Night.

For the most part I enjoy reading this "novel" of Iyer's, which is really a travel narrative, thinly veiled. But I can be honest with myself and say the audience for the first part of this book may be pretty small--consisting entirely of people who've had a clandestine moment in Cuba. I so want the audience for my book to be bigger.

On the other hand, while Iyer's work was tolerable and only Cuba-interesting for the first 150 pages or so, now in the latter half it's actually starting to get good. To the point where even plebes such as yourself who haven't been there might enjoy it. (ha, OK? don't take me so seriously) You really are starting to wonder what will become of our narrator and his relationship with Lourdes.

But man does he capture things about visiting that island that are hard to explain. Such as how you always find yourself taking up the position you argued against the day before, how you are keenly aware of the disastrous aspects of life there until someone points them out, at which point you find yourself defending the Revolucion.

My favorite bit came when Hugo asked him wasn't he going to take any pictures where they were staying because they would be perfect.

"'Too perfect,' I said, and it was true: that was the problem with the place sometimes. The symbols came too easily. Everything was just too ready-made...a girl on a balcony at dusk, looking to it, another sign, in neon, with some of the letters blinking on and off: XX Siglo - Twentieth Century. If I sent that to my editors, they'd think it was a setup. The ironies here were too much to believe..." --p. 174

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I is for I've missed you, dear readers!

NOW READING: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer

Well hello my little literary chickadees of the blogosphere. Where have I been? Oh, you know, just all over the place. Looking for an apartment, attending classes, commuting, drinking, entertaining people, entertaining myself, reading law case books, learning, working...the usual. I have, however, embarked upon my 'I' author and read all of 78 pages so far. (Are you thinking this is going to turn into a two-year rather than a one year project? Yeah, me too.)

Let's talk about Pico Iyer. He is a bit of a different choice from some of my previous alphabet author choices, as he is not primarily a fiction writer but a travel writer. Then again, travel narratives are very novel-like, and Umberto Eco writes in many genres, and all that. I'm not being exclusive about it or anything. Anyway, the 'I' pickings were kind of slim, and my other main choice was Washington Irving's Sketch Book, which is also part travel narrative-like and part short story.

Speaking of previous authors, everyone who's anyone has surely already read this FABULOUS New Yorker article about my 'D' man Philip K. Dick. Trust me: whether or not you've read the PKD, this article is a gem. If you are a fan, so much the better. Go. Go read it. I'll be here when you come back.

So anyway, back to Pico. And by that I do not mean the street in Los Angeles. I first came to know about Pico Iyer when I worked for the now defunct public radio show The Savvy Traveler. He was one of the many thoughtful travel writers we interviewed and often invoked, and I had the pleasure of cutting the tape of his interview, in fact. He said many inspiring things, among them his noting that we just have an unexplainable affinity for certain places, the same way we have an inexplicable affinity for certain people. The one to which he referred at that moment was Japan. He grew up lots of places in the world, but when he showed up in Japan one day it just felt different and more a part of him in a way he had never known. I totally got what he was saying because I've felt it before about Cuba and New Orleans, for starters.

Pico Iyer was one of the things my fellow Savvy staffers, who were all older and wiser than was I, would go on and on about, showing just how intelligent/literary/NPR-like they were. Then they would cast sideways glances across the editorial meeting at me, the 22- or 23-year-old upstart who was like, "Uh, Video Night in Kathmandu? Never read it. Moscow? Never been there. Architectural Digest? Why the hell would I subscribe to that? Who? What? Where?" etc. They really knew how to make a lowly p.a. feel ... indoctrinated. Actually, I'm mostly joking. My two good friends, the producer and assistant producer, never made me feel bad about my naivete. Only a certain other staffer who shall not be named. But he secretly respected me, too, for at least having up and traveled to Cuba.

And that brings me back to the point: Cuba and the Night. This is Pico Iyer's novel. And by novel I mean thinly veiled travel narrative. Which, as you may know unless you live under a blogless, MySpace-free, text-message-lacking rock, is exactly what I've been writing (for years): a thinly veiled travel narrative about my time in Cuba that from time to time I call a novel. So you can imagine how much fun it is to read Pico Iyer's.

My edition is ISBN 0-679-76075-X.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A fine lot of lollipops

NOW FINISHED: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Fun fun fun. I finished it a few days ago but being back in school and going to Boston and running a 5K have all taken time away from posting. I am excited to watch the movie. I just love to read the book and then watch the movies. That is a fun way to approach life.

Of course I love the ending. I love Sam Spade and I knew we could count on him. As for Ms Thang O'Shaughnessy, whom I just knew was not going to turn out to be as good as Effie Perine had said, I thought it was great when Sam basically said "peace out, lady" even though he would have loved to keep getting cozy with her and when he said "you haven't played square with me for half an hour at a stretch since I've known you." You go, Sam. Send her off to the gallows. Anyway, it's not as if there's any shortage of ladies in Sam's life, it would seem. And then he gives her crap for playing all the men, which is funny.

Also funny is how Joel Cairo is gay. Who knew? Were we supposed to figure that out at the begining because he spent his time going to the theater? Perhaps something in the clothes he wore. But it's fun how Dashiell Hammett has to describe his actions and suggest things between the lines to tell us he's gay without telling us he's gay. It reminded me of how Willa Cather in One of Ours told us that Enid refused to have sex with Claude on their wedding night or even thereafter without ever actually saying that. Deftly handled. I love it. Go, writers of the 1920s!

But in the end, does it get any better than this:

"Jesus God! is this the first thing you guys ever stole? You're a fine lot of lollipops!" -p. 188

Monday, September 03, 2007

"The falcon cannot hear the falconer..."

Well, you had to know I was going to ask this. It's the quintessential question to pose and thoughtfully consider, isn't it, when one is reading The Maltese Falcon? The question is: what is your price? What value would an object have to have for you to be willing to sacrifice everything to get your hands on it?

It seems so ridiculous. People getting murdered, everyone wanting to get their hands on this "priceless" historical object. Millions. A huge cut for Sam Spade even -- if they're not lying, if they really would keep him alive after he handed it over. It's all so ruthless and I just always wonder, how can you ever really get any value from something when everyone just wants to kill you for having it? That, to me, would make the value go down substantially.

Yes, I'd rather be alive and safe and poorer.

I suppose some of our so-called leaders are willing to slaughter at least as many people hourly for oil as have so far been slaughtered for this falcon. And the oil does bring them billions...

"Mere anarchy loosed upon the world," indeed.

(Thanks, W.B.!)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sam Spade is destined to win

Everyone is a little bit sketchy, a little bit off, but no one can put one over on ol' Sam Spade. He just does his thing, gets out of scrapes, and seems to pretty much always get what he wants. I kind of think no one in the book besides him will end up actually being a good guy, with the possible exception of his little secretary type friend. I think they might even be wrong about Ms Thang of the three names, one of which is Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

Still don't exactly know what the Maltese falcon is, although I know more now. But why does everyone want this bird statue? Why is it so valuable? I had to put the book aside for this week as I was ever so slightly busy starting law school. But don't worry. Sam Spade and I are still going to spend some quality time together. And then I will watch the movie.

I love how ol' Dashiell describes people. He pegs them so well. I keep trying to see if I fit into his "She was the type of woman who..." descriptions. Most recently, I've read about Spade meeting with the fat man, who contributes this:

"I do like a man that tells you right out he's looking out for himself. Don't we all? I don't trust a man that says he's not. And the man that's telling the truth when he says he's not I distrust most of all, because he's an ass and an ass that's going contrary to the laws of nature." - pp. 106-107

That last bit kind of reminds me of law school.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sam He Is!

NOW READING: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Simply put, Sam Spade is the shit. He's so all-knowing, so understatedly feisty, so blithely unafraid. He also seems to have something going on with every female character so far introduced. (I'm a few chapters in.) My statement on the matter remains that I am glad to be finally reading a Dashiell Hammett book. Since mysteries aren't really my thing, it will be interesting to see whether I am inspired to read more upon completion of this one.

I'm sure a lot of people have seen the movie. I, however, have not, and am glad for this since I always do like to read the book first. (But you better believe it's in my Netflix queue.)

Sam Spade is so matter-of-fact about things that shock others: Oh, we didn't believe your story, you just paid us enough for that to be all right....that sort of thing. But I think my favorite line so far comes when he describes a man's sudden disappearance: "He went like that,' Spade said, 'like a fist when you open your hand.'''

Also, you know how some people devour mysteries and fancy themselves some kind of amateur sleuth and imagine themselves solving crimes with the greatest of ease? Yeah, that's so not me. But this book does make me reminisce about San Francisco; I haven't been there in years.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cervantes, Wilson, & Hammett

Hmm, that doesn't really have a law firm ring to it, as so many last name last name ampersand last name groupings do. I am totally thinking about law school again, excitedly so, and I am also excited about being excited, so it's just a big ol' barrel of law school preparation fun 'round these parts, but I am still reading my summer books for the moment, and here's what I have to say about that.

Don Quixote: On Monday I received much validation from my friend Carrie, who has also read many good things in her day but finds herself unable to get through Don Q. We agreed that Cervanted needs an editor and that it is a one-joke book. Said joke is hilarious the first 100 or so pages, but 500 pages in I'm yawning way more than chuckling. Of course it's understandable if he didn't have an editor, what with it being "the first modern novel" and all. But I'm just saying.

Apart from the noncommittal murmurings of a few, I've received basically one strong vote for finishing the book and one strong vote against. So, no mandate. Oh, and I've also received the response from another friend (who loves her some Don Q), "You're reading the wrong translation!" That's kind of like the Ralph Nader vote. What to do, what to do.

The Able McLaughlins: Meanwhile, the other week as I waited for Brian to be ready to read Dashiell Hammett I picked up an old Pulitzer Prize-winner (love me some Pulitzer-winning books), The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson. I will probably take that with me to New York this week, along with the Q, and see how I feel.

Because the book I'm actually reading - today, tomorrow, and surely to finish this weekend - is The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Hurrah! I am so excited to be reading this. It goes quickly and is not long. Sam hear this name so much ambling through our society, but you may have never read him. As promised, so far the prose is clean and sparse and I can see where he's quite the hard-boiled detective fiction legend with his "That's the stuff" etc. Sam Spade himself so far seems complicated, despite his surface simplicity. Would he have really killed his partner so that he could marry his Iva? I'm doubting it. But we shall see how it all unfolds.

My edition of The Maltese Falcon: 0679-722645

Saturday, August 18, 2007


OK, for those of you breathlessly awaiting an update (oh, it's so fun to tell myself that) I have in fact been sticking with Don Quixote, if by "sticking with" you mean "haven't thrown across the room but read fewer than a dozen pages a day and somehow suddenly discover a pressing need to read every unfinished issue of The Economist that has sat on the coffee table for weeks."

But the thing is, every time I talk about Don Q, then I find myself wanting to finish it. And, I might add, I find myself fitting into some of my friends' definitions of "literary snob" because I do kind of want to be able to say I stuck with it and didn't quit and I will fully confess that I like it when people look at the gigantic book and raise an eyebrow or two.

And yes, yes, I know I have yet to post my literary snob report. I have to do that, too.

And I really didn't want to be reading Don Q when law school year two starts. But it's apparently going to be that way.

Last night I was watching M*A*S*H Season 7 on DVD and when Hawkeye goes running off to the Panmunjeom peace talks Colonel Potter or BJ or someone refers to him as being "off playing Don Quixote."

Furthermore, there was a most intriguing bit in the book when they're hanging out with the Moor-who-wants-to-be-a-Christian lady where I see the origins of the term "Al Qaeda"...creepy. I'll post that next. I don't have the book with me at the moment. And I have to run to go catch the commuter rail.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Well, Don, I guess we're stuck together for a little while...

My friend Kim said the following. She did not post it here as a comment, but I believe that is because she forgot her Blogger password or something. Anyway, she said:

"1. It is the first modern Western novel - and by that I don't mean the genre put forth by Louis L'Amour. 2. It is the cornerstone of Spanish literature - which only matters if you're reading it in Spanish, I suppose...are you? Finish the fucker. Regards, Kim"

All righty then.
For what it's worth, I'm on page four hundred something, and it's getting a little better again.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Quixote Query

NOW FINISHED: Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
ANNUAL BIG BOOK I'M NOW READING(!): Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
NEXT UP FOR A-TO-Z PROJECT(someday): The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

So I'm on page 368 of Don Quixote and here's the thing. I'm not really sure I like it. It's long, and long-winded. And, it's kind of a one-joke book. That joke was really, really funny for the first 90 or so pages. Laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny. But now it's really dragging along. This is true even when I read 125 pages in one day, such as yesterday while I worked my stupefyingly boring convention temp job.

I don't like giving up on a book before I finish it. I really don't. (Take that, Harry Potter!) But I'm kind of over it, and there's so much else I want to read. I always give a normal book at least 100 pages, so maybe with a monster such as this giving it 368 pages counts.

But what I really want to count is this: your votes. Should I keep reading it, or not?

And for those of you who like Don Q - without spoiling, just in case - why? And how long do I have to wait to love it?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Is he - one of us?

NOW FINISHED: One of Ours by Willa Cather
NEXT UP FOR A-TO-Z PROJECT: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
ANNUAL BIG BOOK I'M BLOWING OFF: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

So I finished One of Ours, and I am happy to report that once I got past page 100 it started to get really good, so I am glad I stuck with it. Not that I could have done otherwise, because Pulitzer=I read it. However, it really was kind of blah-blah-blah on the prairie and got exciting only once Claude married his silly Prohibition-thumpin' prairie girlfriend and then set off for France to be a soldier in World War I. There was a lot of grappling with the meaning of life, death, war and the like. The end, though, was strange. So my overall report is that it's a great book from about pages 120-365. (out of 371)

And by the way, no, I'm not entirely sure the answer to "one of our" - what, exactly? Quick, somebody call Umberto!

Coming soon -- very soon: my Official Literary Snob Report!

Monday, July 23, 2007


NOW FINISHED: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
IN MIDST OF MY ANNUAL BIG BOOK: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
NEXT UP FOR A-TO-Z PROJECT: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

So, yes, I finished None To Accompany Me about a week ago but I didn't get around to posting my profound conclusions about it, especially as I spent the last few days in New York entirely distracted by a different book (that would be ...Deathly Hallows, what, you live under a rock?) and other fun things. Now I don't really remember what my profound conclusions were. Other than it was an OK book with exquisitely worded moments, I learned a bit about post-apartheid South Africa, and I have no sympathy for the cheating main character who comes to the end of her life and can't figure out why her personal accomplishments don't measure up to her political. Well, duh, maybe if you had some semblance of loyalty, commitment, and truth, you would have been able to have an amazing relationship with someone you found and loved. But no, you are too self-absorbed for that, at least in matters of the heart/bed, and your life went elsewhere and you lost your grip on it.

I'm pausing before moving on to 'H' in my A to Z Literary Blog Project, hence the throwing a Pulitzer winner in there this week. As Willa Cather goes, I'd have to say so far I like My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop better. I'm about 110 pages into One of Ours. I would never even consider not finishing it, hello, Pulitzer, but it's just OK so far. We'll see.

So, I thought this would be a good time to check in with the books I've read for my A to Z Literary Blog Project so far and see how they rank. In order from most liked to least liked, I'd say:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Information by Martin Amis
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

The top 4 are all pretty close. And far above the next two. And my Beat boy Burroughs is dead last. That book just did NOT do it for me.

Seriously, can I find a job where I just get paid to read books? Seriously? Please?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The personal is political

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

I remember the first time I heard that phrase bandied about, by self-professed intellectuals engaged in what we were certain was profound analysis in my life-altering Women's Literature class. Just to give you an idea, in that class we read the likes of Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Laurie Colwin, Leslie Marmon Silko, Terry Tempest Williams. Some of what we read I found highly overrated if not outright dull: The Joy Luck Club, Like Water for Chocolate. At any rate, you can definitely see the idea of "the personal" being a political statement, if you like to phrase things that way, in that literary list.

But now here I am in Nobel Prize-winning Gordimer's book, and I see the deftly combined personal and political in a new light.

Of course one of the interesting things about this book is this woman's work as a social justice lawyer. I also find it interesting that when I initiated this little "literary blog project" (over winter break) I gravitated toward books about writers, whereas now I weirdly gravitate toward contemplating my lawyer self. (My other 'G' finalist was A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis.)

But after her husband leaves her, on the surface just out of the country for a little while staying with their son but really their relationship is coming to an end, she sits alone in the house drinking vodka and devouring news from newspapers, television, radio.

"The evidence of personal life was around her; but her sense was of the personal life as transitory, it is the political life that is transcendent, like art, for which, alas, she'd never had time after Bennet read wonderful poetry to her in the mountains...Politics affects and is evolved endlessly through future generations--the way people are going to live, the way they think further. She had no illusion about politics; about her part in it. People kill each other and the future looks back and asks, What for? We can see, from here, what the end would have been, anyway. And then they turn to kill each other for some other reason whose resolution could have been foreseen.
Yet there's purpose in the atempt to break the cycle? On the premise that the resolution is going to be justice? --even if it is renamed empowerment." - p. 305

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How about four weddings for every funeral

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

Oupa, the young man who worked with Vera at the Foundation, has died. First he and Vera were both shot when attacked by the side of the road while out straying from their Foundation work although not straying like that. Oupa may be the one man in this book Vera hasn't slept with. OK, I exaggerate. Anyway, Oupa slept with someone else; he's the one who got the teenage daughter of the other couple pregnant. But now he dies from his wounds, after everyone thought they were both going to be OK.

Oupa had a wife and two children who live way out in the middle of nowhere with no phone or anything, and he never sees them as he is in the city working at the Foundation. So as Oupa lies in a coma in intensive care and Vera and other co-workers visit the hospital daily, his family members have no idea. Only when he dies does "the Soweto grape-vine" kick in and get the message to the wife. And his body is brought "home" for a funeral.

The other day my sister and I were talking about flying versus driving from Phoenix to Payson, Utah. Our mother always drives and never flies. My sister joked that my mom may never get on a plane again, that she would not even do so to go to my funeral. Well for starters, I don't think that's true. But it did make me start thinking about, among other things, how we all scramble and do what it takes to get to funerals. Example: I just went to my grandmother's wake and funeral in the middle of my first-year law school finals. Seriously? Sometimes I wonder why I did that. Wasn't the trip I made in April with my uncle, to visit my grandmother alive, actually the more important one?

I'll tell you another one. My grandfather died in the summer of 2002. It just so happened I was on a road trip from L.A. to Boston. The person with whom I road tripped and I attempted to drive from Boston out to see my grandparents in western Mass. and got lost amid a ferocious summer rain and didn't take the shortest route anyway and in the end never made it. Then a day or two later, the morning I was preparing to fly back from Boston to L.A., he died. And at that point I changed my flight home, called work, stayed an extra week in Massachusetts, and attended the funeral.

"She gets his body back. And that seems so important. The dead body?...But someone came specially--from her--to arrange the transport, the money for the funeral. All the things that distance and poverty and ---I don't know--acquiescence in the state of things? --couldn't manage before become possible when there's so little purpose left."
- p. 215

On top of my not being religious and not really needing my soul consecrated to some godlike thing, I often muse about the need for a funeral at all. I know that they are a great way for the family to gather together to comfort one another and you often see people you haven't seen in a while. But wouldn't even that be lovelier if done while we're all still alive?

Friday, July 13, 2007

"I'd have kept those beans, but our house was cursed..."

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

So the two couples in this book, for a grand total of four main characters, are troubled by their children. One couple's child revealed her lesbianism. The other couple's child at only 16 or 17 years old got pregnant by a slightly older married man and they made her get an abortion.

The main main character - the human rights lawyer woman who has tirelessly worked for the Foundation that has assisted the oppressed in their struggle against apartheid -- thinks it's her "fault" her daughter "became a lesbian." She thinks this because she, back in the day, cheated on her first and second husbands, and would come home from her adulterous lover to find this daughter as a teenager sitting at the table doing homework. The daughter remembers this and describes in the present day how her mother looked on those occasions in a colorful way ("f**ked out"). The mother, horrified, thinks she clearly put her daughter off of men.

Well, that's all as messed up as it sounds, but I like what this woman says about it as she discusses the situation(s) with her friend who is the father of the teenage pregnancy girl.

"I suppose we believe we're responsible for what we think has gone wrong with our children and in their judgment hasn't gone wrong at all." - p. 177

Again I say, it's lines like these that have kept me eagerly reading this book. What more can I add?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

War? Fiddle-dee-dee!

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

If you're like me, reading this book will make you realize you know precious little about South Africa, and even less about what it's been like for people there to form a new post-apartheid society. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading. (But there's far more to it of course.) I used to hear a lot about South Africa in the news, when I was young. From CNN to U2, everyone who was anyone talked about it while we (we = the whole world, sort of) tried to end apartheid. But after that everyone kind of moved on. Although, not Hillary Clinton, I might add. Among the many places she traveled and acted diplomatically and helped people during her eight years as first lady was South Africa, where Chelsea and Nelson Mandela apparently became good friends. Love it.

Still, I would say that these days I can go for a couple years without thinking about South Africa. I'm pretty sure you do, too. Before this book, let's see, there were the handful of South African English teachers I met in the expat scene in Korea. Before that, apart from the occasional lamenting discussion when I volunteered at AIDS Action, probably had not given much thought to it since I watched Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (A great film by the way. Netflix. Netflix. Netflix.)

One of the main characters in this Gordimer book spent time in exile and was an important underground figure in the Movement (to end apartheid). At one point he ended up as an interrogator in a prison camp where they took spies who had infiltrated the Movement on behalf of the apartheid government. So here you had these people fighting for justice and their freedom to exist in their homeland and they end up doing to these prisoner spies the exact evils that corrupt white government officers had done to them. This particular main character is trying to reconcile this, even though he is the good guy who spoke up against using torture, even on spies. But now, post-apartheid, they are back living in South Africa and his wife has a prominent elected position and this dark side of his time in exile mustn't be revealed.

"Ashamed, even though he'd finally got himself out of the place, refused to carry on there. Refused, yet understood why others could do the terrible things they did; she was a woman after all, she could understand revolution but she didn't understand war." - p. 129

Oh yes, I like that very much. This is why I like this book. The emotional flashing back and forth of the other main character (the main main character) among her various lovers is a little tiresome--will she find out who she is? blah blah blah. But passages like the one above, which come about frequently in this novel, stop me in my tracks. I do believe that's me--all set for a revolution, but I just don't understand war.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

I didn't really know what to expect going in to this book. She is definitely an author of whom I had no real idea, no real feel for the work, beyond that she's revered and prize-winning. Well, the book is quite serious in tone and very emotional-novel-like, but it also throws in observations that reveal a kind of wit under her surface. Example:

"Bennet Stark carved wood and modelled clay but while recognition for his work in this vocation seemed long in coming had had to make use of a conventional degree he had earned when too young to know what he wanted to do. Bennet Stark was known, behind his back at the Department of English in the university where he worked, as Our Male Lead; as if he were responsible for his looks and the mixture of resentment and admiration these aroused. From the point of view of advancement in an academic community it's a bad sign to have some advantage that is simply a gift of nature, not earned and not attainable for others by any amount of hard work, lobbying or toadying." - p. 19

I love it. First of all, I empathize with the artist/academic debate. As I have amply pointed out in these here blog pages, why should we have to choose? Why can't we be creators and nerdy professors holed up reading and researching? Not that I want to spend my life researching, I'm realizing more each day. But say someone such as Bennet does want that. Why can't he be both? And more things besides? I like how she points out we earn our degrees when we're too young to know what we want to do (with them). Although, do we ever know that? I'd imagine not. Or if we do know, does it come to us suddenly, even a few years after earning a degree, in some fiery epiphanic burst? I'd even more imagine not.

Secondly, how funny about stuffy academia! How dare he be good-looking, eh!

Damn, I love me some non-traditional academics. And on that note, I must sleep now, as my research awaits me in the morning...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Solo journeys

NOW READING: None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
ISBN: 014-025039-5

And I have lots and lots to say about it, only right now I'm tired and going to go to sleep instead. It's been a long (but fantastic!) week. Yes, I am aware that it is Monday, and those of you in traditional working lifestyles are probably thinking, "Um, hello, it's the beginning of a week." But I just meant the past seven days. That kind of week.

Nadine Gordimer. Nobel Prize winner. And I'm already on page 218 (out of 324) so I'm apparently not reading this one at the glacial pace I've read the last few. At first the book made me angry, because I thought it was asking me to sympathize with a cheater, but now I think it might not be asking me that. Anyway, I'm off to dream about it. I'll be back, with profound thoughts in tow.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Waddling Apotheosis

NOW FINISHED: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

For one thing about the waning pages of this book, if the final chapters' Krishna ceremonies, temples, scampering gods, and riverboat rides are rendered on film in the same dreamy and somewhat convoluted way they are in the book, then I shall wonder if said movie isn't best enjoyed while chemically enhanced? At any rate, the whole last section of the book, "Temple," is definitely denouement to the thoroughly enjoyable and terribly climactic resolution of "Caves." But you also find out good stuff in the end. And you get to spend a little time with Ralph, who strikes me as loopy but likable.

And in the very very end, I am rather impressed by the prescient E.M. Forster. Although he probably wasn't alone among British who had done India time in saying the English empire would simply have to go at some point. But it's oh-so-interesting to read his 1924 words on this inevitability.

It is further interesting to note (as is noted throughout the book) how "India" is a conglomeration of so many states, regions, religions, identities...

"Then he shouted: 'India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one!...'
India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth century sisterhood! Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman Empire..." - p. 361

Still, he holds out hope that we can all be friends.

I think my next project should be finding what E.M. Forster had to say 20-25 years later. Please tell me someone thought to ask him? And to write down his words?

Mishandled affairs

NOW READING (and nearly done!): A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"Sir Gilbert, though not an enlightened man, held enlightened opinions." - p. 287

How brilliant is that quote! This guy basically waltzes in to the "decomposition of the Marabar" post-trial, post-mistakes, post-break-ups, as everyone attempts to move on. Whatever that means. After all, Aziz' life is ruined, but then again one could make a strong case that the occupying British had ruined his life either way. Not to mention the fact that his next action is to display a remarkable tenacity in clinging to the completely false notion that Fielding had ulterior motives or anything other than the jolly good Fielding motives we thought he had.

I really like the statement about Sir Gilbert, holding all the right opinions, waltzing in to wonder why we can't all just get along and "deplore racial prejudice" the way that he does. But before you start getting all up in a snit about "bleeding heart liberals" or some such nonsense, just think about the alternative. (Commuting Libby's sentence, anyone? I think I prefer at least the pretense of enlightenment.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

One's own dead

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"'I was brought up to be honest; the trouble is it gets me nowhere.'
Liking her better, he smiled and said, 'It'll get us to heaven.'
'Will it?'
'If heaven existed.'
'Do you not believe in heaven, Mr. Fielding, may I ask?' she said, looking at him shyly.
'I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.'" - p. 267

Again I say the subtlety of this book is what's most striking about it: little bits of philosophy woven throughout like intricate parts of a cloth's design. This particular passage hits home. It's so simple and so clear to me, even if it sounds odd. It's like, screw eternal reward! You should be good anyway.

Meanwhile, Aziz is good and angry now. As well he should be. Although he didn't really help the matter with all of his quirky cultural responses to Adela, the caves, and the field glasses, I kind of like his take now that anything he does will still play into the colonial British imperial hands. He wants to separate himself from that crap two-tiered society. Who can blame him? In one way it does avoid conflict to completely remove ourselves from a troubled situation, but how on earth do we ever make peace?

I really like this bit, too:

"Although her hard schoolmistressy manner remained, she was no longer examining life, but being examined by it; she had become a real person." - p. 272

By the way, 'G' is just around the bend. Elizabeth Gaskell, Nikolai Gogol, Zane Grey?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Justice, sham trials, and the like

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

This isn't really where I was expecting the book to be going. I was kind of surprised at what happened at the trial. I also kind of feel like we as readers are in the swirl of it all along with Miss Quested. And pray tell what does her name mean, allegorically? I've been meaning to ponder that.

But mostly I'm now struck (and amused) by the fact that here comes yet another little lawyer/trial snippet of life for me to ponder and examine through the prism of having gone to my first year of law school and blah blah blah.* While it of course briefly reminded me I never want to be a lawyer and all that, it also made me remember that the world is really messed up and it's not just the lawyers, and I didn't spend the whole time reading that chapter thinking law schoolish thoughts. Yay!

*yes, even I am thoroughly bored with my newfound gazing at everything through the 1L prism

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hot to trot

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I totally want to go to India. I want to go now. I didn't realize how now I want to go until just, well, the other minute as I was idly flipping through my book. I am aware that India is an enormous country and there are so many different regions and things to see that the statement "I want to go to India" doesn't really say much. But that's not the point. It'd be like saying "I want to go to the United States." People have said that. Then who cares if they meant only New York or something? So there's a lot of India to see. So? So I want to start seeing it.

I really am itching to go there. And I want to go for a long time and see as much of India as I've seen of these ol' United States, which could take years, I realize. Recently Brian and I have been amusing ourselves counting how many of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die we've been to. I've been to 43--and a good deal of those are in the U.S. My well-traveled-in-the-U.S.-ness serves me well. In fact, there's a sequel out which is 1000 Places To See Before You Die - USA and Canada and I'm well over 100 in that one.

But back to India, which is big and has many places to see and has not been visited by me. I want to go there. And you know another thing that excites me about India? It's hot. I like hot. In A Passage to India they are all talking about the Hot Weather. The Hot Weather is a-comin'. Mrs. Moore wants to leave India now that all the drama is happening after the disastrous cave visit and everyone's like, "But you can't travel during the Hot Weather." God, I can't think of anything more delectable.

And I like all different kinds of hot. I of course grew up in the dry heat. Just last night I was talking to some random people about dry heat. Well, they were talking about dry heat and I overheard them and asked where they were from (this was taking place in Manhattan) and they weren't from but had been to Las Vegas and they asked where I was from and then we talked about Arizona. I love the "But it's a dry heat" nonsense. I loved when some radio station or newspaper columnist or someone was talking about it, too, something along the lines of, "You go to Phoenix, the heat is killing you but everyone tries to console you with 'But it's a dry heat.' Yeah, sure. Guy bursts into flames on the sidewalk--but it's a dry fire!" Ha ha ha.

Remember those August days when you walk out of your air-conditioned house and it feels like someone's turned a hairdryer in your face? Oh, you Phoenicians and other dry heaters know so well what I'm talking about. The great thing about it, is, why do you live there then if you hate it? Why have you built this sterile civilization of air-conditioning in the middle of the desert by diverting so much water from the Colorado River that hardly a trickle is left when it gets to Mexico? In all sincerity, Phoenix as we know it should not exist. I grew up there and I love it, but I think it's kind of cool that mother nature bitch-slaps us with 122 degrees every once in a while.

I like other kinds of heat, too. Tropical heat. Yummy. Swampy delicious. Man, I spent about five minutes in Jamaica (had a layover in Montego Bay) but my entire impression of that place is that it was just hot--unbelievably hot, giving new meaning to the word. And Cuba? Another world. I never felt heat like that in my life. Never before and never since. The sun is closer to you, seriously. And you feel just this glorious sunny heat all the time. Except during the daily torrential rain(most afternoons during hurricane season).

I think the temperature was probably in the 80s (fahrenheit) most of the time I was there, but there was also humidity. It wasn't just about being muggy either. It was about the sun being so close to you it was as if it could reach down and touch you. It slathered its heat upon you. And the tan--sheesh! I returned from there so amazingly naturally tan, and it was gradual from an entire summer of days under that sun, not one fell sunburn swoop. I remember my sister commenting on a picture that happened to be taken of me with a half a dozen or so family members almost two full months after I returned to the U.S. "Geez, compared to Linda the rest of us look like ghosts!" she observed.

So, what's the heat like in India? I don't know. This book stops short (at least so far) of describing the Hot Weather. I'm sure there are different heats in different parts of the country as well (like here in the U.S.) There was one part of this book where Forster wrote of "films of heat" and I found that a delectable description.

I like other things besides heat. I like snow too. I like brisk autumn days. (Spring and I are still working out our issues.) So, why do I get so passionate about the heat? (That's like the heat of passion, only different) (and that kind of supports my case, as no one ever says things are coldly good in idiom! just cool) (too many parentheses) I rise to its defense because people are so mean about it. But I think we're meant for it. Aren't the cradles of human civilization equatorial desert?

"It was early in the morning, for the day, as the hot weather advanced, swelled like a monster at both ends, and left less and less room for the movements of mortals." - p. 219

Nice! You tell 'em, mother nature. You show us who's boss.

Monday, June 25, 2007


NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

So, I can relate to Adela. Witness:

"Then she went back to her plans; plans had been a passion with her from girlhood. Now and then she paid tribute to the present, said how friendly and intelligent Aziz was, ate a guava, couldn't eat a fried sweet, practised her Urdu on the servant; but her thoughts ever veered to the manageable future..." - p. 149

And this ties into another recent realization I had about addiction. People often say things about an "addictive personality." Since I have been addicted to something before for which people feel quite comfortable judging you (cigarettes) I have had that "addictive personality" label slapped on me. I've often wondered what that really means, though. Apart from my endless fascination with my own alcoholism or lack thereof (one of my hobbies is taking the Signs You're an Alcoholic quiz and noting that I'm still not in the danger zone) I wonder if there is such a thing as an addictive personality. I mean, take heroin. I've seen how it wrecks lives. It was very physical. I'm not sure the personalities had anything to do with it.

However, my recent realization was about coffee, which if anything would be my current addiction. (And not necessarily Starbucks, although I am happily, cheekily in the "Addicted to Starbucks" group on Facebook.) Notice I didn't say caffeine. I believe my body is currently physically dependent on caffeine in the sense that I have a cup of coffee basically every morning and will have a headache in the evening if I don't. So that is definitely a "habit." But the addiction part is something more, and it amused me when I observed it about myself. On the day that I moved out of my Hofstra residence I still had a few things to pack in the morning. I was in slow motion, and still awaiting the arrival of my dad with the van, and I told Brian (who was so nice as to help me move, yay!) that I wanted to go get coffee first and then come back and finish packing and that would definitely be the more productive way to go. So we walked over to Dunkin' Donuts and back. I then proceeded to finish packing, efficiently, and I made room in bags and tied up loose ends and so forth.

Then I looked up and saw my Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee on the near-empty desk next to the clock radio and realized I'd drunk all of three sips of it. Greatly amused, I pointed it out to Brian: merely having acquired the coffee made me satisfied and I was able to move on and be productive. Of course I would eventually drink it (so as to avoid later headache) and even enjoy it (mmmm...cream, no sugar) but I had this great insight about what satisfying the WANT meant.

I wonder if this relates somehow to my love for planning. Don't you see how it could? It feeds something in me to make lists and make plans and craft and recraft my vision for the future (and reorder my Netflix queue). But I don't think I need to make plans and lists. I'm not sure I'm any more likely to do the things whether I make the lists or not. But I actually like to do it. And I think this also relates to how healthy it feels to meditate, and be mindful, and get my buddha nature on, and live in the moment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Something dramatic is about to happen on their excursion to the caves. And I feel like I'm living in some weird parallel course with this book: I feel sick and unsettled and on the verge of something dramatic, too. This is kind of like when I was dizzy and I swooned in junior English class while we read the part of MacBeth where he hallucinates Banquo's ghost. I don't want to, though. I don't want to be sickened by lingering thoughts of last summer and I don't want to be on the verge of something dramatic. Mrs. Moore is sitting outside the caves because she can't stand a second claustrophobic visit, so she lets Aziz and Adela go on their merry way while she waits. This will turn out to be a mistake any page now. I can feel it.

"The universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her soul, the mood of the last two months took definite form at last, and she realized that she didn't want to write to her children, didn't want to communicate with anyone, not even with God...For a time she thought, 'I am going to be ill,' to comfort herself, then she surrendered to the vision." -p. 166

Hello. And what a kick-ass description, I must say, of "that sinking feeling."

I just want to know if it's possible that I really could have induced a flashback with all my talk about full circles and coming back from Korea a year ago and the things life brings us. Could I have done that? If I started reading this book and was struck by the expat-in-Asia-ness of it then by dwelling on some twisted nostalgia (for what?) could I have started making my whole month of June into a grotesque replay of last horrible stupid June? Last June of betrayal and lies and me beating my head against a brick wall trying to Figure It All Out? Could I have conjured up the feelings I felt then just by thinking about then? Ewww. And if so, does that mean when I finish reading this book I can close the book on all this flashback nonsense as well? It's so weird.

Aziz has got issues, and I think pretty soon he's going to have a few more. He's trying to please people who don't understand him and whom he doesn't understand. And I don't think he understands why he wants to please them.

"Like most Orientals, Aziz overrated hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy and not seeing that it is tainted with the sense of possession." - p. 157

I relate to that too. Then, and now.

Friday, June 22, 2007

To indeed be a god

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"'We're out here to do justice and keep the peace. Them's my sentiments. India isn't a drawing-room.'
'Your sentiments are those of a god,' she said quietly, but it was his manner rather than his sentiments that annoyed her.
Trying to recover his temper, he said, 'India likes gods.'
'And Englishmen like posing as gods.'"
--p. 51

Much as I ruminated today on my blog's "front page" I am struck by how we hardly act different at all from people 100 years ago.

The U.S. might have joined the English in posing as gods in various Asian countries, and insisting it's there in justice and peace. And this is still happening! Korea, anyone? Granted, I made two really good friends because of the U.S. army bases there. And there were a lot of bilingual street signs for which I was grateful. But come on. People would actually tell me with a straight face that the U.S. military is there to protect against "the threat from 'The North.'" Seriously. SERiously??

I didn't know why I felt drawn to read A Passage to India, but now I do. What a fantastic reflection on the expatriate experience. I'd like to think the job of an English teacher is far less offensive than that of a civil servant of the occupying colonial force. I'd sure like to.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

This month is bound to happen
or, F to the J to the N to the...

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

I continue in India. Since I have been a slacker and not posting, I'm starting to accumulate many a folded page and nary a post about them. Tonight I'll try to catch up a bit.

For one thing, this book is wonderfully philosophical out of nowhere, sprinkled in among the paragraphs describing the goings-on of English and Indian interminglings, and done so well that when it goes back from philosophy to the "action," you find you are still philosophizing. Like this: "But she did not take the disappointment as seriously as Miss Quested, for the reason that she was forty years older, and had learnt that Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually. She said again that she hoped that something interesting would be arranged for next Tuesday." - p. 23

Then there is the whole thing where you want to harshly judge the English civil officials for their callous and snobby ways among the "Natives" but you also have a tiny bit of sympathy, especially(?) if you have lived and worked abroad, say, teaching English in a Korean academy where you had daily thrown across your path obstacles that were not insurmountable so much as they were inscrutable. But you feel bad about the judgments you yourself made, too. Like this: "'You never used to judge people like this at home.' 'India isn't home,' he retorted, rather rudely, but in order to silence her he had been using phrases and arguments that he had picked up from older officials, and he did not feel quite sure of himself." --p. 33

Then there are the religious considerations, Moslem, Hindu, lots of lapsed Christians. And now I have a question. During one passage we are invited to ponder the likes of jackals and wasps gaining an eternal reward. And if them, then how about bacteria? And cactus? Are they not loved by the gods? The missionary thinks, "No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing." -- p. 38 Well, I can add nothing to that, which just about sums up religion right there.

But I'm curious about the early part of that passage because it starts out with the monkeys: "And why should the divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also?...he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends." --pp. 37-38

Wow. After years of listening to The Pixies' "Monkey Gone to Heaven" I suddenly find myself wondering where good ol' Frank Black got his inspiration for that line. Could he have been reading A Passage to India? Why not? I hear tell he came up with the hook and those "monkey gone to heaven" words before he fleshed out the song.

Also I cannot let this opportunity pass. I must say that the repeated "This monkey's gone to heaven" of the chorus is one of the best misheard lyrics ever, having once resulted in my favorite "This month is bound to happen." Indeed it is.

Also, for those who care and even those who don't much, though I'm still in F, guess what? I do believe I know who my 'J' author is going to be. A small prize goes to the first person to guess correctly. And I think I know who my 'N' author is going to be as well, although, AHEM, that one appears to have been selected for me...

"Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge
from New York and New Jersey
This monkey's gone to heaven..."
--the pixies

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sky High

I forgot I wanted to say something about the very beginning of A Passage to India, from when he's setting the scene and describing Chandrapore:

"The sky settles everything--not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little --only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and and so enormous." - p. 5

I thought - what a great way to put it! I tend to be overwhelmed by the sky just in general. Although like everyone else I walk around much of the time forgetting to look up and be appreciative of it. I also stand by my statement that Arizona has the best sunsets in the world and an amazing sky-ness quite often. But I like to gaze out at the horizon wherever I go and let the Indigo Girls lyric "What a blessed sky" run through my head. I am altogether appreciative of the sky. But I had never quite articulated that thought, that it kind of gives the go-ahead to the earth to be beautiful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Imports and Exports

I have embarked upon A Passage to India. (I never get tired of saying that.) This is exciting for so many reasons. One, I was on my E is for Eco book for nearly two months, and now it's like TGIF - thank god I'm (on) Forster! Two, it was made into an Academy Award-winning film, you know. Three, let's talk about traveling to Asia, shall we?

Sometimes I think my life is a gigantic circle. Other times I know it is. Here I am all contemplating the year since I returned from living abroad, so what better time to read a novel about Westerners in India? A couple of the Englishwomen are discussing whether India really feels like "the other side of the world" or not. I have an amused(television) and an inquisitive(real life) response to this.

First, amusement: I love Designing Women! In this book Miss Quested says she wants to see the real India. "Ronny was in high spirits. The request struck him as comic, and he called out to another passer-by: 'Fielding! how's one to see the real India?' 'Try seeing Indians,' the man answered, and vanished..." - p. 25

Well, how can one not think of Suzanne Sugarbaker? On vacation, prissy Suzanne is the lone voice who does not want to soak up the local culture: "I can assure you that there is nothing around here I want to 'soak up.'" Perhaps you have to know and appreciate the show and the fabulously fun, satirical-yet-hitting-home ways of Suzanne's character (and if you don't appreciate these things, I highly suggest you get thee to your Lifetime and watch some Desigining Women episodes) but it's so fantastic. On another trip, Suzanne elaborates, "I've noticed that whenever people start talking about seeing 'the real' anything, what they really mean is 'hanging out with poor people.' I say, I don't hang out with poor people at home, so why should I do it on vacation?" You see? It's absurd, and shocking, and not politically correct, and doesn't it also ring unfortunately true for so many of us? That, my friends, is the brilliance of Designing Women.

Second, my Korea-induced question to ponder. I never really felt like I wasn't seeing "the real Korea." I mean, it's such a silly way to phrase it, anyway. (I'm with Ronny, in that sense.) We all live in our little subcultures, whether at home or abroad. And we frankly tend to shun The Others no matter where we are as well. So I took refuge in the Commune, my very favorite bar on the planet, where the expats would gather in the low-lit basement pub, play music, meet and greet, launch a what? I also hopped a three-dollar bus to a random town every other weekend, made political connections, and got to know hundreds of children whom I taught. Which parts of that are "real" and "unreal"? What nonsense.

One of my best teacher friends over there hated Korea for this reason: she didn't feel it was different enough from the United States. She might agree with Mrs. Moore: "she too was disappointed at the dullness of their new life. They had made such a romantic voyage across the Mediterranean and through the sands of Egypt to the harbour of Bombay, to find only a gridiron of bungalows at the end of it." - p. 23

Not only did I generally disagree with this friend (then again, I mostly see "similarity to home" as a matter of quantifying the availability of Mexican food, and I used to describe myself as a foreign exchange student in Boston -- from California) but I also wonder if it isn't rather condescending of us to say places are "Americanized." Or even "Westernized." What, like so-called Western Civilization has some sort of monopoly on crappy television, neon, techonology, McDonalds, and the like? Who are we to say that? Now that everyone and their trendy brother eats sushi and does yoga, why don't we say that we are Asia-ized? And don't even get me started on anime and manga.

No, really though? Who the hell are we to say? My experience is that Korea and Japan are so technologically superior to the U.S. it's not even funny. In Seoul I could be three levels underground on the subway and have a cell phone signal, but on Long Island I can't keep one on the Hofstra campus. When I first got there I asked my smug little spoiled adolescent class if they had iPods and they were like, "i-what?" Then they whipped out their phone/camera/mp3 player combos that put us to shame, that every freakin' ten-year-old has. And no offense meant to my Michigan peeps (and besides, my adoring fans all know I love Michael Moore than the lot of you put together) but everyone knows their Toyota runs better than their Ford. I'm not the only one who has come to that conclusion. So why do we think we're so superior?

And why are we perpetually in search of this exotic other, anyway? Would it be so bad if we found more common ground among humanity than differences?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My foray into bookseller addiction

I think this will be my last random book rambling before I embark upon A Passage to India. But I just came across a list in a box of old papers: handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper is a list of a couple dozen books I read in my first year that I worked at Borders! I even vaguely recall making this list. It's probably incomplete, but I remember after I'd worked there a while noting that I was reading even more than I had all my life (in which life I had often been known as the friend who reads a lot). So I'm amused to look back now at the books I read when suddenly they were all around me and I was touching them all the time, plus I now got a discount.

High Tide in Tucson Barabara Kingsolver --contains one of the best essays ever, about atomic missile facilities in the middle of nowhere in the U.S.
The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck (a Pulitzer winner!)
Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and its Ghosts David Thomson --this book gave me about a thousand suggestions for movies to see. I remember making that list too, as I went along reading it
Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky
Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen
Angela's Ashes Frank McCullough --a true gem. a must for everyone, bookseller or not.
Snow Falling on Cedars David Guterson --don't bother
The Cider House Rules John Irving
In Session: The Bond Between Women and Their Therapists Deborah Lott
The Living Annie Dillard -- made me think she should stick to non-fiction. made me think *I* should stick to non-fiction.
Echoes Maeve Binchy
Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf
The Common Reader Virginia Woolf
Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend Patrick Symmes
Squandering Aimlessly David Brancaccio
Peyton Place Grace Metalious -- sooo good. I'm not even joking.
The Thorn Birds Colleen McCullough --also sooo good. Still not joking.
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee -- duh
The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood -- didn't actually love this one, but have loved every word of hers I've read since. Her brilliance is unmatched.
The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx
Utopia Thomas More
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing Melissa Bank -- before there was chick lit, there was this. Would that the shelves had remained that way. Her outfit on the cover is pefectly indicative of how she kicks ass.
What We Keep Elizabeth Berg -- I'd read everything else of hers before I worked in a bookstore. Berg was my treasure; I shared her with my co-workers and every other customer who walked through the door. Then Oprah discovered her, too!
Open House Elizabeth Berg -- this is the one Oprah discovered.
The Edible Woman Margaret Atwood -- and my co-workers shared treasures with me, too!
Tuesdays With Morrie Mitch Albom -- had to see what all the fuss was about. And now I could do that without committing my hard-earned money! Employee perks!

I'm sure there were others; I recall scratching my head even back when I scrawled this list. But this is pretty representative of what I read that year. My taste has improved since then, but there were some good finds.

Remember last summer when I was on a quest to get rid of my earthly possessions -- even the books? I'm sort of losing that drive...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Boys and Girls

FINISHED: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
PREPARING TO LAUNCH: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
ON THE SIDE: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes/Evening by Susan Minot

Yes, the 'F' author has been selected, although not yet begun. Don Quixote is this year's mammoth book of choice, and how appropriate to begin it now as this weekend marks exactly one year since I left Korea and finished War and Peace on a plane somewhere over the Pacific. But first I have a parting Rose thought.

So, I've been having an argument a discussion about Adso's Kitchen Encounter. Which is to say, he is tempted/seduced/blown away/doesn't really know what's going on by beautiful peasant woman whom Salvatore brings into the abbey, and so despite his vow of chastity he gets to experience this act some monks never experience, and is even promptly forgiven by William the next day. (There's more to it than that of course, but that's not my point here.) So the argument discussion is about whether the whole ideal of an enlightening One Romantic Encounter is male fantasy crap that never happens in real life.

I was saying, how could Adso be so enlightened and wowed by ONE time? That never happens. Needless to say -- or is it? -- I was having this discussion with a male. And as I think about it, I think perhaps my notion that it is "male fantasty b.s." might be wrong. Maybe it's male reality b.s. I mean, there are differences and then there are differences but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that across the board men are more fulfilled by their initial sexual experience than woman ever are. Without exception.

So, this is interesting and probably old news, but what's newly interesting to me is that I'm currently sort of reading Evening, because the previews for the upcoming film have me greatly intrigued, mostly because I (only half-jokingly) refer to it as "the sequel to The Hours," as I've previously mentioned. So even though I don't want to buy it, I read a chapter or two of it every time I am in a bookstore (which is almost every day) and I'm about halfway through it. And the basic plot is that this woman on her deathbed deliriously recalls a life-changing night back in the day that she has never forgotten, although as she lies there murmuring this man's name all her gathered family members are like, "Who? Who's that guy, Mom?"

The story is told flashing back and forth among various time periods, so I haven't yet reached the climactic moment in the far past. That is to say, they have met and strolled together under the stars but haven't yet had the life-altering One Romantic Encounter, although by all indications they will. And it leaves me thinking -- hmm, this book is by a woman. And it's the woman who is, apparently, altered in this particular story. So, is it that we've been so pummeled by the male fantasy over the years, especially in movies I'd say, that women have bought into it, too?

Ah, but then I forget about romance novels. Mostly because I've never read one. But I have shelved a lot of them, and it sure seems that a lot of women in there can have amazing, mind-blowing One Romantic Encounters as well.

Anyway, I just think it's interesting. I'm really not bothered by it at all. This isn't some call to feminist arms, and it wasn't a particularly heated discussion about Adso. I just think it's interesting that as soon as I tried to determine that Adso's experience was an implausible male fantasy, I picked up Evening and then thought, "Oh. Or not."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"They ALL did it!"

NOW FINISHED READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

What a book! I highly recommend it and have even already loaned it to one person to read. I have more to say about it, but quickly, here's a thought. A cursory scan just now of a bunch of reviews on Amazon and the like brought me to comments like: "you feel smarter after you read it" or "this book will make you feel your IQ went up a few points." Huh. Interesting. I hadn't really thought or felt like that, and in all the years my literary-goth-pagan-English major-medieval lovin'-philosophical etc. friends have insisted it's one of the best books ever, I've not really heard that comment either. Do you suppose I hang around (and discuss books with) people who are smarter than the average denizen of the world wide web?

On second thought, as I reread that question, I want to answer myself the way William would answer Adso: use your head. Learn to think. The answer is so obvious.

Or is it just that it really is a mystery, really? Even though it rightly hangs out in Fiction/Lit and is not relegated to the Mystery/Thriller shelves (she said, letting her bias against Genre show). And that mystery lovers haven't read as many smart books? (she said, no longer even trying to hide her bias against Genre)

But...but...I still love Clue! That's one of the smartest mysteries ever, too. And with a happier ending(s). I could see William and Adso fitting in nicely at that little dinner party, puzzling out what happened. It's kind of like The Name of the Rose, now that I think about it. They show up to solve one crime and many other murders follow...

" All right, Chief, take 'em away. I'm going home to sleep with my wife!"
-- fabulous last line of Clue

Friday, June 01, 2007

Diggin' up bones

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I've just read of William, Adso, and Nicholas-the-replacement-cellarer wandering through the vault of the abbey's treasures and relics. These include a part of the crown of thorns...a piece of the tablecloth from the last supper...the tip of the spear that pierced the Savior's side...a piece of the actual holy wooden cross. Adso is of course in awe at all these relics and William basically tells him, "Yeah, right."

Now, granted this is a fictional abbey, but I know how it is with the relic-seeking and I just wonder, seriously, why do we believe this crap? Really, though? As William puts it, "And don't succumb too much to the spell of these cases. I have seen many other fragments of the cross, in other churches. If all were genuine, our Lord's torment could not have been on a couple of planks nailed together, but on an entire forest." - p. 425

I thought about how we all do this, really. And not just with Jesus. I mean, we even do it with secular figures. ("Washington slept here!" isn't much different) But what it really reminded me of was when I was in Korea and I went to see the Buddha's finger bone, unearthed in China and conveniently on exhibit in Seoul the first weekend I spent there. I won't even try to explain my actions; you can just have a look for yourself here. Did I really think it was the Buddha's finger bone? These things beg the question, of course, of what I mean by "the Buddha." Like, maybe that really was the bone of the man named Siddhartha Gautama. Even so, what does that mean? And suppose the cross that crucified a certain (quite possibly wrongly) accused criminal was salvaged and a bit of it was hanging out in an abbey somewhere? In which case are we fooling ourselves more, that these are the historical fragments or that they are historic fragments?

Also, "the Buddha" is really not quite right to say. There have been other enlightened beings, a couple dozen buddhas in one branch of buddhism, I think. Even the word "buddhism" is misunderstood by most who use it especially when we come from western religious traditions. Where was I at with Buddhism when I randomly discovered that Buddha's bone was spending the same weekend in Seoul that I was? I guess you can see from my tales of my stay at the Buddhist temple Haeinsa, part one and part two. Maybe I'd describe it as faithful wariness?

Adso is sad and horrified that William doubts the validity of these treasures. Poor Adso. He still has a lot to learn.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Badder than old King Kong,
far more dangerous than a hydrophobic dog

I think everyone at the abbey starts to go a little crazy as we approach page 400. Not the least of which is my buddy Salvatore. I wonder if I have a little bit of a crush on Salvatore? He's such a freak. But I kinda like it. At any rate, now I've passed page 400 and now he's been sent off to his doom with the "witch"/object of Adso's affection and Remigio. And Remigio, by the way, just FELL APART on the stand there. Well, I say "on the stand" at what passes for a trial...your friendly neighborhood inquisitor meting out justice or something like it...

But, see, I don't think Salvatore is really gone. I think he's going to rear his ugly head (and it is, by all accounts, an ugly head. I don't mean any offense by that) and save the day or something, like Hurley on Lost, when no one else believes he can help. Either that or he's guilty as sin. Hard to say which.

But now Malachi is slumping in his seat at Matins, and I've got to see what happens!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Homo literatus

  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Evening by Susan Minot
But the latter I'm just kind of reading. I'm so greatly fascinated by the preview for the movie, which I have seen two out of two times I have attended the cinema in Harvard Square this week, that I had to wander into the Harvard Coop bookstore there and start reading the book. I've read three chapters of it. I'm calling the movie "the sequel to The Hours." Joining author Minot in writing the screenplay was none other than The Hours author Michael Cunningham (my boy!) and the cast is kind of like an Hours reunion. I'm pretty sure I don't want to buy the book Evening but I kind of like reading a chapter a day in the Harvard Coop. (Which, I love that bookstore. I so do love my Boston things. My old haunts.)

But I digress, reader, from the tale at hand. Salvatore! Salvatore! What is going on?! You must save yourself!!!

I am starting to get toward the end of The Name of the Rose, and my goodness. Bernard Guido Inquisitor or whatever his name is is so mean! And I'm getting really sad for Salvatore. But I don't think he can be the murderer, because he's caught now and I think some more people still have to die. We're only on the fifth trumpet. Poor, ugly, picked on Salvatore. As he put it, he "sinned with no malicia." Indeed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blood and bones and such

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I love this book. But I've officially reached the point where occasionally I'm like, "Wait. Who's this guy again?" Furthermore, I've also officially reached the point where I don't always care enough to flip back a bunch of pages to find out, and instead just trust that William and Adso will drop enough tidbits into their conversation to remind me of this or that monk's prior apperance(s). And William and Adso are nothing if not conversation tidbit droppers.

But then there are characters like blind Jorge and especially my boy Salvatore who are just unforgettable. Damn, I love Salvatore. I get excited every time he appears, and especially when he starts his special language-blend of speech. This happens far too infrequently for my tastes. And p.s., just where has Salvatore got to now, with Benno having removed (or did he?) the Greek/Arabic manuscript from Severinus' ransacked laboratory? Benno, by the way, being a key example of the "Who's-this-Daisy-person?" phenomenon I mentioned above. (bonus points to the first person who can cite the "Who's-this-Daisy-person?" reference, no cheating)

I guess my point is - I so don't want Salvatore to be guilty! But he so totally might be. I really have no idea. And, I don't know if law school and the glacial pace at which I've been reading this are to blame for my utter lack of fingering a suspect, not to mention my not at all keeping good track of who the suspects are. Or is it just that convoluted of a book? Well, "convoluted" isn't really the right word. But I did get really happy when they finally just made page 321 a map of the freakin' library and the first letters. Throw a girl a bone, eh.

And speaking of tossing bones about, do sentences get more evocative than this...

"This side was the one brought down on Severinus's head, as was revealed by traces of blood and even tufts of hair and horrible gobbets of cerebral matter." - p. 359

How can you read a line like that and not think you have met your writerly match?

Monday, May 28, 2007

I fought the law and the law won

Deep into the 300s (pages), Adso and William attend the gathering of all the assembled cardinal, abbot, papal delegation, suspected heretics, etc. So there I am, happily back in the world of reading a novel again instead of a laborious law text, when suddenly William jumps up and starts prattling on about the origins of law, jurisdiction, why the Pope can or can't tell people what to do in a secular sense, and even freakin' property and how when Adam started naming animals *that's* when human ownership of things first came into being...

Et tu, Umberto?
Can't I escape law school at all?
Even at the Memorial Day cook-out I attended today, within two minutes of being there my friend had introduced me to three law school people. (2Ls-now-3Ls) They were talking about the reasonable man and using suspiciously familiar casebook terminology. I thought, 'I speak that language...' Ugh.

I daresay William's ramblings on when humans came to own things and whether Christ did or the Church should were interesting. And probably would have been good philosophical reflection for my Property class. Maybe even as good as watching Lost. Maybe I never should have taken a break from The Name of the Rose after all.

Still, I think I prefer William when he's trading cheeky comments with Adso about how crazy are the folk who hail from Anglo lands.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't be such a martyr

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Again. Finally.

And I still love it! Like an old friend, it patiently awaited me as I slogged through finals and everything else the universe has been offering up. It sat on the floor of my room (where pretty much everything has been flung and scattered the last few weeks, so it was in good company) and I would eye it but I could not touch, I could not give in to the tempataion, I had to keep moving. On Wednesday after the last final, I crouched down to scoop up the novel in my arms and nearly cried with relief.

So. I don't really remember where William has disappeared to (maybe he's just having a nap) but Adso is talking to Ubertino and hanging around the library by himself and even, bizarrely, encountering a woman in the kitchen! And when I say "encountering a woman in the kitchen" I mean it in the "what Sawyer thought Jack meant when he said he and Kate were caught in a net" sort of way. We are totally getting into the Woman, thou art the embodiment of evil, oh temptress, oh vessel of sin stuff. Good times.

Just before that, however, Adso remembers the execution of heretic Brother Michael who died defying the bishops and pope whom he considered apostate. Adso has it on good hearsay that Brother Michael said, "If we read with such fervor the doctrine of certain sainted abbots, how much greater should be our fervor and our joy in desiring to be in their midst?" (p. 235) Which, I have to say, reminds me of something that has stuck with me from childhood.

As many of you (many? maybe. who are you, anyway? who's reading this?) know, I was pretty much raised Mormon, although some of you don't know that because it's so not in the Top 10 Things I Reveal About Myself these days. More like the Top Ten Significant Things That Manage To Stay Hidden Until I've Known You For a While Unless, Inexplicably, I Trust You Right Off the Bat. (It occurs to me that if I actually made that list, the title might be longer than the ten items.) Well, Mormons are seriously misunderstood. Although they are possibly about to be either much better understood or even more seriously misunderstood, as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's publicists seems to have found a great way for him to avoid talking about the political issues by just talking about what it means to be Mormon all the time.

Anyway, I always try to dissuade people from disliking the things they've got wrong about the religion ("lots of wives" "magic underwear" "not allowed to drink soda") because the real things that are wrong with the religion are so much more worth disliking! So this one time when I was about eight I was being fed one of the usual legends of founding prophet Joseph Smith's greatness, decidedly free of grains of salt. Mormonism is a fascinating study of modern-day folklore. Forget the claims of angelic visions and golden tablets; the mundane day-to-day life of Joseph Smith is mythologized enough. This particular day we were talking about when when he and his brother were shot and killed by an angry mob at Carthage Jail, aka his martyrdom. They were pretty much imprisoned for their beliefs (although I hear that only happens in Cuba, eh) (ooh, watch out, don't step in the puddle of sarcasm) and now that I think about it, it would be kind of interesting to revisit the whole event from a human rights perspective. But when I was eight I had no perspective, and instead I gobbled up the sweet story of martyrdom and was flat out told in my little Sunday School class that should we ever be placed in the position we, too, must be prepared to die for our religion.

Now, being the bright and inquisitive (albeit perspective-lacking) eight-or-so-year-old that I was, I then required further elaboration. Like, really? I had to say "the church is true" if it came down to my life? The Mormons are big on that phrase "I know the church is true." It's like a little shorthand for Jesus died for us, the Catholics have long since gone astray, the Protestants haven't quite got it right either, Joseph Smith came to save the day, read The Book of Mormon, be worthy to enter the temple, go on a mission if you're a boy, have lots of kids, etc.) It's kind of weird, if you think about it. Spin. How can a "church" be true or false? But, you see, The Church is this all-encompassing thing. It lives. And, they testify, is true.

I pressed the point with my teacher. "What if someone had a gun to my head and said they won't kill me if I just say that the church is not true? What if I cross my fingers behind my back or something? Or can I say it and save my life and then repent really quick for lying?" And my teacher gravely said she hoped I would be able to do the right thing and be prepared to defend the true church. Can you imagine saying that crap to an eight-year-old kid? I mean, it's ridiculous for anyone, really. At my grandmother's funeral this past weekend (that's the Catholic side of my family) the priest went on about how Christ on the cross is the ultimate sign, or symbol. SYMBOLISM, people. Even IF you believe Jesus "died for us" then Joseph Smith didn't "need" to die and neither does random Mormon-on-the-street, least of all some little kid! But there I was, wholly convinced I was going to sooner or later face the terror of being killed for saying, "The Church is true." No wonder I was scared out of my wits lying in bed at night. Maybe it wasn't the fault of The Shining and Helter Skelter after all. (The Exorcist can perhaps still be implicated.)

Years later at BYU I learned another Mormon legend that basically says denying the Holy Ghost and murder are the only two unforgivable sins. Which is kind of an interesting twist on the whole martyrdom thing, if you think about it. Like, I imagine God and or various judging angels (kind of like God's law clerks) gazing down at someone with the gun to someone else's head: "Say it! There is no holy spirit guiding you!" And God et. al. wondering which one will become the Unforgiven.

Perspective, people. Instant perspective. Just add salt.