Saturday, May 30, 2009

"I could Turgenev": help me identify this quote please thanks

From the Totally Random Files...For those of you who don't know (really?) I have a tendency to jot down things I like/want to remember/want to revisit later. These days, most of this "jotting" happens electronically, on my Google Desktop or in my cell phone. But, there are still many scraps of paper and notepads from back in the day. I might add that I have been doing a good job of decluttering and getting the appropriate To Do things and reminders onto Goodreads, Netflix, my Google calendar, what have you.

Today, as we pack up the Brooklyn crib, I am stymied by something I clearly wrote down years ago. Here's what is says:

"'I could still travel, change jobs, read Turgenev. Any kind of love was possible.' - p. 314"

Now, I KNOW: why didn't I write the title? I suspect I was using the card on which this was written AS a bookmark and meant to transfer the whole thing to a notebook, duly citing the sources, within days if not minutes, though I clearly did not do that. The thing is, now I really want to know whence this quote comes. Particularly because I have now read Turgenev (as the 'T' author in my A-to-Z literary blog project), so that's fun, but also because it's bugging me.

Clues: it has to be from years ago because the card on the back of which this is written is from Euro Pane Bakery in Pasadena. Assuming I read the mystery book (not that kind of mystery book) before leaving L.A. it had to be out before end of 2002, latest. It sounds non-fictiony if not memoir/self-helpy. And there are two other things written (smaller, much less prominently) on the other side of the card: "We don't talk anymore. There is too much to say." - p. 412 And "There is a beauty in the world, though it's harsher than we ever expect it to be." - [page number indecipherable]. It is probable that all three quotes from the same book but I can't guarantee it.

It could be Elizabeth Berg, but if so I'm definitely not placing which one.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vast old empires and republics

NOW FINISHED: At the Foot of the Blue Mountains: Stories by Tajik Authors
NOW READING: Julian by Gore Vidal

Because I am currently totally interested in all things Tajikistan, that's why! And the book was pretty good, especially for a collection of short stories. I was looking for Tajik literature -- which by the way is hard to find, for reasons I shall discuss -- because I am very much seeking permission from the universe to travel to Tajikistan this August on a volunteer trip. It is hovering on the line between impossible and likely right now. I need to just make it so. But I need that permission.

So one of the problems is that the old Tajik Persian-derived literary heritage was sort of eradicated (I know, how can something be "sort of" eradicated? but you'll see that's my point) during the Soviet era. But it was mostly a language thing. And it wasn't even Farsi and Tajik (which is similar to Farsi) language books but Arabic books that were destroyed/confiscated, because the Tajiks had been invaded by Arabs long before Soviets. The Soviets were trying to get rid of Arabic language to standardize the Cyrillic alphabet. Quite a mess, of course, but then here in the U.S. people also tend to get bitten by the one-official-government-language bug pretty often, now don't they?

However, since there was a lot of oral poetry in said Tajik Persian-derived literary heritage, it is not actually gone and is mentioned a lot in At the Foot of the Blue Mountains. I really like this book. It is quite the good little introduction to many things Tajikistan. It contains a sampling of twentieth century stories and from authors born in various decades, but it was published in the 1980s so it still does not slam anything Russian or Soviet at all. However, a Tajik identity and the lifestyle there totally come through. There were several very interesting stories and only one or two duds.

Anyway, so I read that. And now I am on to 'V' - for Vidal! He is definitely one it is good to finally read after always hearing about him. The book, Julian, is about the 4th-century Roman emperor and his attempts to get rid of that wacky, newfangled religion that was rearing its head everywhere (Christianity). Normally I'm not one for historical fiction -- ugh -- but I had little choice with ol' Gore V. as that seems to be his specialty. Plus this one is a pretty obscure person and definitely snarky about the religious stuff -- fun!

In other literary news, for those of you who were jealous back when I was reading Infinite Jest and swore to yourselves that you, too, would tackle DFW's tome, this summer is your chance!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

With apologies to Mr. Chatfield

NOW FINISHED: The Centaur by John Updike

So, it's called The Centaur because the entire book is an allusion to the Greek mythological race of half-horse half-people, which myth I have apparently entirely forgotten. In fact, as I went along reading the book, there were a couple of times when Updike blatantly told a magically real encounter between two characters and I knew this, say, girls' coach/p.e. teacher was supposed to represent a mythological character. It was totally spelled out. Not until the end of the book did I come across an index of mythological characters to whom Updike had merely alluded throughout the book, and the pages on which they appeared -- there were lots. The index contained a list of names about fifty times longer than the list I would have written of mythological characters appearing in the novel.

OK, so now that we know I had absolutely zero idea of what was going on in the subtext, how was the actual text of the book? Not bad. A little weird at first but after getting more comfortable with the characters it's a much better experience. It's essentially three days in the life of this father and son, with lots of small-town drama, hints of Updike's long-simmering love for New York City above all other locales, a keen understanding of what goes through the minds of high-school students and faculty, and plenty of social commentary. But it's also a totally novelly novel, in that early twentieth century way (i.e. when the mindless churned-out crap fiction was still pulp).

Updike, like Forster before him in this A-to-Z blog project of mine, has an uncanny way of writing along, you know, telling the story, lah-di-dah, and then BAM! He hits you with an amazingly well written line and you think, Ahhh, this is why he's a famous and well-renowned writer whose praises are regularly sung.

Next up, V, another author who seems in my head to be of the same ilk as Updike, for whatever reason. I'm currently pausing from the project as I read At the Foot of the Blue Mountains: Stories by Tajik Authors. This is inspired by a trip to Tajikistan in August that I really, really, really want to do with Habitat for Humanity and which I am still pursuing but about which I am losing more hope by the minute. I think Mr. Centaur Biology Teacher would have a thing or two to say to me about that loss of hope, actually.

In summary, The Centaur is sort of like Ulysses meets Breaking Bad.

And I want to become smarter and then read it again. But I totally respect that Updike a)just writes the hell out of it anyway, without stopping to explain every last thing and b)writes such a great simple story, too, that you have to be smarter than a lot of people to even realize that you need to get depressed about everything you're missing.