P-p-p-p-p-p- Pages! Turn and face the strange p-p-p-Pages!

I’m always surprised whenever I read or write something. Even though I enjoy both, I wonder if each time will be the last time. Do I still have the patience, the willingness, the ability to become totally absorbed, swept up, completely alone with the voice in my head? Will I be smart enough, can I understand, will I be able to feel? It’s hard to concentrate, to narrow focus, to pay attention in a world that pushes and pulls. I wonder when I’ll find the time. I wonder if I’ll make the time.If I do, if I can, I know I’ll be rewarded, and I’ll be proud that I bothered.

Right now I’m reading three books, so I’m beaming. I like them all. They’re healing, like soup on the couch after the fever’s broke. (I’ve been laid up lately.) They’re rich and hearty, white butter on black bread. They make me talk like this. They keep me up at night. I think I want to marry them. (The doctor gave me some drugs. They didn’t do much for pain, but I think perhaps the doors of perception are opening. That reminds me: “When life shuts a door, open it. It’s a door. That’s how they work.” I think Ted said that in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Ted’s the smart one. http://variety.com/2015/film/news/frank-zappa-documentary-alex-winter-1201546906/ )

The first book was Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s a group of stories about familial relationship, be they blood born or chosen. I like it, especially Part II, which has a trilogy of stories about interwoven families that span time and place. Critics love Lahiri’s work; the NYT Book Review chose Unaccustomed Earth as one of the best books of the year in 2008,  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/books/review/10Best-t.html as did The Washington Post, the LA Times, Time, Newsday and People, and she won a Pullitzer Prize for another book, The Namesake. I like how she spends a lot of time on character development, and that they defy stereotypes. Many of them are Indian or Indian- American, and I like the cultural background that infuses the stories. They are all about real life, and so the stories are kind of quiet and easy to relate to. However, I think I must be missing something; the reviews say things like “shimmering”, “revelatory” and “ferociously good” –  I don’t see it. She gives meticulous, detailed back-story, which I appreciate, but sometimes it’s a slog to get through, and after reading the book, I barely remember some of the stories. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t have any urge to revisit it. Revisit it I will, though, as I read it for a class that I’m about to take, so maybe I’ll get a different perspective on it.

The next book I read is Colum McCann’s new collection of stories, Thirteen Ways of Looking. I tell you what, I love me some McCann! Come on, Colum! The title piece and first novella of three in this grouping just blew me away.McCann really lets the reader get to know the characters; you live with and even inhabit them, as much of the story is a stream of conscious narrative from the protagonist’s point of view. I loved the protagonist, a retired judge in his nineties – so smart, so witty, so unique, so human! It is the story of just one of his days, and I was sad when it ended…and happy when I realized I still had more stories to go. 

The plots held me and sometimes baffled me with their content and construction. They are imaginative and well-wrought, each different and compelling  I remember them all, and I think about them unexpectedly. And the way he writes! I found myself reading, then rereading, then getting up compulsively in the middle of the night to get a pen to underline words, sentences, whole passages. McCann is the opposite of small and simple. His prose is lush, extravagant and musical, fat and chewy with images, sounds and rhythms. For example…

“Curious thing, the snow, They say the Eskimos have eighty words for it. An articulate lot. Slush and sleet and firn and grain. Hoar and rime. Crust crystal vapor blizzard graupel. Pendular permeable planar. Striated shear supercooled. Brittle glazed clustered coarse broken. An insult of snow, a slur of snow, a taunt of snow, a Walt Whitman snow, a bestiary snow, a calliope snow, it’s snowing in Morse code, three longs, a short, a long again, it’s snowing like the ancient art of newspaper, it’s snowing like September dust coming down, it’s snowing like a Yankees Day parade, it’s snowing like an Eskimo song.” (p.56)

I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but just the way the words swirl around you, how some of them go by in a blur, until, unexpectedly, your eye catches on one or two of them, a phrase, and you see it for what it is – so specific, evocative, pure – they way the words grow from flake to storm –  dare I say ‘shimmering’? Damn, McCann, you kill me!


So, yeah, I loved that one. My mom gave it to me. She knows how to pick them!

The last book I’m reading is The Devil In the White City, by Erik Larson. I’m pretty sure I’ve started this one before and never finished it. I’m into the subject matter – clever serial killer uses Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair to lure hapless victims to their death; what’s not to like, right? It’s got history, mystery and a Ferris Wheel. Still, I’m finding it hard to get into, again, so more on this as it develops, if it develops.

Since I started this post, David Bowie died. Like so many, I loved him. He was so brave, dramatic and bold. He was never content to be just one thing, and he welcomed transformation and evolution. He spoke to us all, and we all thought he was talking just to us. He was magnificent and artistic. The way that he orchestrated his death, commingling it with the day of his birth, and the birthday of his latest album in a genre that refuses to be defined, all kept under wraps until the glorious, shocking, tragic reveal – life and death as art. There’s this word, ekphrasis, which means visual art transformed into verbal form. Bowie was fantastic ekphrastic.

Here is one of my favorite Bowie songs, though there are so many great ones it’s hard to choose. I love the opening lyrics in this; they’re like a movie, and the double meaning of “pull” pleases me. It takes you from sort of melancholy nostalgia tinged with regret to anthemic triumph –  also, it has one of my favorite two word phrases of all times in it – “religiously unkind”. I can’t say I understand it all, but I sure do love how it makes me feel.

My Death

By Jacques Brel

My death waits like an old “roué”
So confident i’ll go his way
Whistle to him and the passing time…

My death waits like a bible truth
At the funeral of my youth
We drank for that – and the passing time…

My death waits like a witch at night
As surely as our love is bright
Let’s not think of that or the passing time…

But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do…
Angel or devil, I don’t care
For in front of that door…there is you.

My death waits like a beggar blind
Who sees the world through an unlit mind
Throw him a dime for the passing time…

My death waits to allow my friends
A few good times before it ends
Let’s not think about the passing time

My death waits there between your thighs
Your cool fingers will close my eyes
Let’s not think about the passing time…

But what ever lies behind the door,
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil I don’t care
For in front of that door… There is you

My death waits there among the leaves
In magician’s mysterious sleeves
Rabbits and dogs and the passing time…

My death waits there among the flowers
Where the blackest shadow cowers
Let’s pick lilacs for the passing time…

My death waits there, in a double bed
Sails of oblivion at my head
Let’s not think about the passing time…

But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil…I don’t care
For in front of that door
There is…me