April 2018

Monday, November 22, 2010

P.S. 18 My Mom Wouldn't Like It

My sister, my partner and my mother have all been absorbed in the popular novels about the girl who got a tattoo of a hornet and then kicked the bucket. I thought about reading them, but my sister says they're too mainstream for me. I suppose my streams are tributaries. I know they're not creeks, but I guess they'r not rivers either.
Children's Books:
Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham: Pure poetry. I love everything about this book, but especially that the narrator never has a name and that Sam is called "Sam-I-Am." My mom's nickname is Sam. I'll bet she likes this book.
Williams' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Hillarious. This dramatic pigeon really wants to drive a school bus, but the driver has denied the pigeon's dream. My favorite line: "Pigeons have dreams, too." The drawings are hilarious, too. My seven year-old niece Lucie prefers its sequel, The Pigeon Gets a Puppy because there are two characters featured.

As I draft my fiction list, I realize that plot is not central for me. Action and adventure is not my genre. I'm drawn to themes and concepts, to lyrical and humorous styles, to multiple perspectives. Mom does not like any of the books I read, and you might not either, so if your taste runs more in her direction, I've noted from time to time her take on a work.
Melville's Moby Dick: Some people say this novel is a lot of pages about a whale, but it's beautifully lyrical, and it's really about perception and madness. And whaling. My favorite scene is the scene where Pip is thrown from the boat and realizes his smallness as he waits in the ocean's wide expanse, hoping that his ship will return for him. My mom would not like this book.
Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible: In this story of a mother and her girls who follow their crazy father-figure into Africa as missionaries, the family is doomed in their mission from the start. Chapters rotate through a series of narrators, each a different, wholly unique voice. My mom might like this book, as it is the saga of family, but she probably would not like it as there are a lot of narrators.
Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller Vargos Llosa's lyrical novel tells the story of a Peruvian ex-patriot imagining the life of a childhood friend, whose picture as a tribal storyteller now hangs in an Italian art museum. About the mythical role of the story teller in this Peruvian tribe, the story is itself masterfully told. The storyteller's line, "That, anyway, is what I have learned" weaves through the storyteller's sections much like Vonnegut's "And so it goes." My mom really didn't like this book.
O'Brien's The Things They Carried: This semi-autobiographical novel tells stories of the character Tim O'Brien's experiences before, during, and after the Vietnam War, so it's a war story, but it's also a story that explores the tangled relationship between life and art. I suspect Mom wouldn't like this one either.

In nonfiction, I prefer a narrative that, much like cultural travel, introduces me to a world new to me and the perspectives of those who live there.
Ambrose's Undaunted Courage: What would it have been like to cross this North American continent without maps or guides but armed only with a vision and the the nineteenth-century mythology of "the American west?" This question fascinates me (partly because I'm quite sure I would have stayed on the East Coast, or in England, by the fire), so I loved Androse's narrative about Meriwether Lewis's journey to and from the Pacific Ocean. Mom might even like it. 
Feinberg'a Eighty-Sixed: The first book I read about the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic in America and those affected at that time, this book placed me in the land of disease, a land I really knew little about, in my own country and in my own time.
Thorpe's Just Like Us: Thorpe, a journalist and wife of the then mayor of Denver, follows four Latina girls, bright best friends, through their high school and college years, seeking to understand the different experiences between the two girls who are legal citizens and the two who are not. Thorpe restrains herself from making an argument and instead asks tough questions about policy concerning illegal immigrants to the United States as she writes a compassionate narrative.
Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: Mortenson humbly tells his journey of a small Pakistani village that saved him when he got lost descending K2 and of his own journey to build schools first in that village and then throughout Pakistan. It's a story of building peace by building schools. Mom would like this one.
Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day: I read much of this book on a plane, and I'm pretty sure my fellow passengers found me annoying and perhaps a little crazy as I hee-hawed my way, delighted, through Sedaris's essays. Everybody likes David Sedaris.
Rodriguez's Always Running: Rodriguez began this memoir when he was a teenager deeply entwined in gang life and finished it when his own son got involved in gangs. Though Rodriguez was unable to convince his son, who is now in prison for life for murder, to leave the gang life, many of my Latino teenagers read it, at least one freshman with teary eyes, explaining, "I want to learn how he got out."

JK Rowling's Harry Potter series: The reader narrates the voices and the magic of Harry Potter's world in a voice that I adopt as my own internal reader. My mom likes these books, and the action and adventure narrative helps me follow the story aurally.
Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: Gilbert narrates her own memoir, which chronicles her journey through three countries that begin with I, Italy ("Eat"), India ("Pray"), and Indonesia ("Love"), a journey of re-discovering herself and of healing from a divorce. A favorite line is from a Texas friend she meets at the Ashram in India who calls her, "Groceries."

In poetry, I am a Romantic, not so much of the kiss-kiss type, but of the "birds and leaves stir my soul."

Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems: A contemporary Romantic, Mary Oliver explores the spirit through her connection to nature. Her poetry is lyrical, humorous, and accessible. Mom might even like her poetry.
Toomer's Cane : Every Southerner or person who finds the American South's culture compelling should read this collection of poems, character sketches and vignettes. Written in 1923, the novel influenced Southern Renaissance writers. It's not really a novel and not completely a collection of poems, but in its lyricism, its unifying theme rather than plot and rich imagery it is poem-like.
T.S. Elliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": In addition to the poem's many quotable lines, ("Let us go then, you and I" and "I shall wear white flannel trousers / and walk upon the beach."), this poem is a character study of a man entering middle age who struggles with a kind of emotional paralysis, a sense of being lost in the world. My high school juniors and seniors tended to connect with this poem.
Donne's "The Sun Rising": A lovely poem in which a man first insults the sun, which wakens him from his sleep with the woman he loves, and then feels a compassion for the sun's age and work in a world where the narrator gets to experience such tremendous love.
ee cummings' "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Beyond" and "One Leaf Falls": Some literary types criticize cummings for what they say is his gimmicky use of punctuation, but I find his images compelling. In "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Beyond," a lyrical love poem to an infant, cummings writes, "Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands." Long Ago, a student introduced me to this poem. In "One Leaf Falls," the words divide into repetions of "one" and the poem falls vertically as a leaf, both visual images of loneliness, as  the poems few words describe.
Whitman's "Song of Myself", a poem where, in section six, a child comes to the narrator with a handfull of grass, asking, "What is the grass?" and the narrator explores the question through a series of hypotheses, concluding, "Death is different than anyone supposed--and luckier."
Dickenson's "I Felt a Funeral in My Brain": Some literary textbook writers who don't know enough about the expansive nature of poetry interpret this poem as the story of a bad headache, or of a fall into madness, which is closer, but it's really the story of a narrator falling into wisdom, into a new world of understanding: "And then a plank in reason broke, / And I fell down and down./ And hit a world at every turn,/ And finished knowing--then--"

I love music lyrical in its words and harmonic in its sounds.
Simon and Garfunkel, especially the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and the tracks, "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall" and "Feelin' Groovy."
James Taylor, especially the album J.T. and the tracks "Fire and Rain," "Damn This Traffic Jam," and "Gone to Carolina in my Mind."
The Dixie Chicks, especially the albums Wide Open Spaces and Top of the World and the tracks "Thank Heavens for Dale Evans" (from the oringinal Dixie Chicks), "Wide Open Spaces," and "Not Ready to Make Nice."
The Indigo Girls, especially the album Nomads, Indians, Saints and the tracks "Southland in the Springtime" and "Power of Two."

Sophie's Choice: My introduction to the young Meryl Streep through the painful life of a Jewish mother in Nazi Germany, who must choose between her two children as she enters a concentration camp. My dad, in an attempt to convince me and my siblings that he loves us all equally, says he would have to say, "Take 'em all! I can't choose!" I think this was meant to be comforting to us.
Innocent Voices: This visually luscious memoir reveals El Salvador in war from the perspective of a child who survived it. It's beautiful and painful and disempowers abstract arguments for war in the unfolding of war's effects on a child.
Monry Python and the Holy Grail: A series of British comedy skits woven around the theme of the search for the holy grail. The classic lines, "She's a witch!", "Run away!", and "I'm not dead yet!" might be funny to you if you get in the spirit of this classic. My mom did not like this movie, which she calls, "That silly movie with the coconuts."
Cold Comfort Farm: This satire on the myth of rural innocence tells the story of a young (and beautiful, of couse) orphan--a city girl--who arrives at her adoptive relatives' rural home and is corrupted by the new country life. My favorite line in this movie: "There's something nasty in the woodshed."
Apocalypse Now: Conrad's Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam War, this movie, like Conrad's story, explores the darkness of invaders as well as inhabitants. It's not cheerful, but it's powerful.
The Incredibles: This animated film is witty. You might mistake it for an action and adventure piece, and maybe it is, but it's the characters, their imaginative superpowers, and their clever lines that make this film a favorite.
O Brother Where Art Thou? Homer's Odyssey set in the 1930s, featuring three men who escape from prison and the music of Alison Krauss. The best line, "We thought you was a toad!"
Run, Lola, Run: This movie replays the same scene again and again, where a chance encounter, like a car entering the street from an alley, changes lives. The movie is about the randomness of our lives, the little control we have over our own context.

This feast of art is making me hungry. Off to lunch. Mary

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