Monday, March 28, 2016

The Red Shooter Hat

see? i identify with this. 

I don't know why, but when I read a classic book I usually seem to get hold of it by the wrong end. I don't go to misinterpret or to catch a different meaning than everyone else, but somehow I do. When I read, I let the story carry me. I let go of analysis until I have finished the book. Its effect on me usually remains to be seen until the final pages are gone. I don't know how to analyze as I go. And even if I did, I think I would get caught in the current of the story and forget to. When I was younger I used to grow frustrated that I couldn't foresee the solution of a mystery when my brother, bless his soul, could guess in three pages who had done it and how, and possibly in which room. Then I grew older, and it frustrated me (and still frustrates me) that I seem to interpret books differently than the official analysis. Take, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. That book made critics throw back their heads and howl with pain as Lee allegedly ripped the character of Atticus as we know him, to shreds. When I read the book I was disappointed in Atticus, yet Lee had built her characters and story-world well enough that the shift in conviction didn't exactly ruin Atticus for me. It made him even more real...because he has a (very large) flaw that one didn't see in To Kill a Mockingbird but that one could believe given his age and times. There is an argument to be made for the idea that Harper Lee didn't intend the version of Atticus seen in Go Set a Watchman to be the Atticus the world knew because, after all, she published TKAM and Atticus mightn't yet have been in his final form in its prequel. There is that argument (I spent some time this weekend arguing the point with the aforementioned brother) and that is a topic for another post. But the fact remains that I didn't react the way the majority of the public reacted to Go Set A Watchman.
Likewise, upon strength of recommendation from a friend, I dived into J.D. Salinger's work this week. He is best known, I believe, for The Catcher in The Rye. I've read that and am now halfway through Franny & Zooey. Since I entered Catcher not knowing anything about it, really, except that it was generally regarded as something People Should Read, I had no preconceived notions about what it would or would not be. My initial reaction was that Salinger is a darn good wordsmith. The best way I can describe the way his writing effects me is that it feels like soda bubbles up one's nose. It's unexpected and fresh and totally different than most anything else I've ever read. My second reaction was that I, too, could write like Salinger if I replaced all my adjectives with swearing. My third reaction was that Catcher's main character, Holden Caulfield, was a boy who'd grown up too fast. His morals are questionable at every turn, but his heart is gold. I know that sounds like an anomaly. Perhaps it is. But what I saw in the character was a boy who has rushed headlong into the world and its many pleasures and yet finds himself confused by the hollow chaos and unsure how to handle how he feels about it. He is kind-hearted. He is smart. He is empty. He is generous. He has known tragedy and he has known happiness, in some small way. The kid's winded, that's for sure. He's going to kill himself presently if he doesn't get a grip, but I had a soft spot for Holden Caulfield.

Thus ran my mind as I closed The Catcher in The Rye and totted the name on my List of Books Read in 2016. Later on I looked up the book online to see what the GP (General Populace) thought of it and found that, apparently, I took away the wrong takeaway from the novel. It is reputed to be a manifesto of teen rebellion; the most censored book of the baby boomers' era; the mental ramblings of an obsessed kid; an inspiration for several shooters, including John Lennon's killer. And I swear to you most earnestly, I can't figure out why on my own. Once I looked up a couple articles, of course, I saw what they meant...if you're an over-thinker and like to overthink things. I mean, if you want to think hard enough about a grape, I guess you can decide it's a raisin and you wouldn't be wrong. You'd just be scrutinizing it past the point of good sense. Or maybe my difficulty is that I don't scrutinize much at all. I'm perfectly happy, if it's a good story, to take the story at face value. I like discussing deep things and ulterior motives and various interpretations, but I'm what Shakespeare would call a "pleasant-spirited lady" and I don't like assigning sketchy backstory to people helter-skelter. I'm more than willing to believe you are what you appear to be, until you give me a reason to think otherwise. I mean, take Holden Caulfield. Yeah, he's an emotionally unstable person given to hyperbole, but you don't exactly go around asking people if they're mad, do you? My problem is that characters become very real to me and I treat them, subconsciously, as if they were real acquaintances. I can imagine my friendship with Holden Caulfield going this way:

Me: "Hello, I'm Rachel."
H.C.: "What're you *%#% introducing yourself to me for?"
Me: "Oh, I thought you looked lonely. It's a little cold out here. Want to step inside?"
H.C. looks at me and shrugs.
Me: "Let's go."
We step inside, camera shifts, H.C. shudders some rain off his coat.
Me: "That's a dashing hat. Very red."
H.C.: "Why the &$#@$@ does everyone comment on my hat? Isn't a fella allowed to wear a $%#$3 hat every once in a while if he wants to?"
Me: "Well, it's a very nice hat."
H.C. begrudgingly: "Gee, thanks."

I'd come away thinking that H.C. was a bit of a crab, had a great many peculiarities, but was probably a fairly nice person on the whole. I wouldn't sit there and psychoanalyze him and start getting a pathological fear of people who wear red deerstalker hats and try not to go home so they won't get into trouble with their parents for flunking out of yet another school. I mean, don't get me wrong: Holden Caulfield has problems. But I think I'm the one about to develop a paranoia of letting madmen go undetected. The really disturbing part is when, like with the quote above, I identify with the supposedly nut-so character in question.

I hate the fact that I don't pick up on subtle cues in literature. I'm not a great one for symbolism. I like people to say what they mean but I don't mind if it has two or three meanings. I like complexity. But I'm also not going to assume that when you put a character in a red hat he bought in New York City, that he needs a psychiatrist. I mean, give a man a sartorial break. At any rate, this is why I don't do book reviews on my blog; I always seem to come away with quite a different impression than the author intended and I'm not sure what that says about me. So now I want to open up a discussion and ask you: are you one of the dedicated G.P. that foresee the psychological conclusion of a character like Holden Caulfield or are you more like me: a woman a bit shy to clap the shackles of a sanitarium on a person who hasn't proved himself in any concrete way to be a total loony? 

Monday, March 21, 2016

you are no stranger to me

Here are some visual, verbal, and audible pieces of inspiration for the untitled short-story I mentioned last week. I hope you'll enjoy browsing what amounts to my current "mind palace." I'm working on this story as often as I can and though it's a paltry showing yet, I'm finding my way all right yet. I jokingly teased that the writing sector of my brain is like a mother hamster, eating its young when it gets startled. So I'm going to not speak an awful lot of this story for fear of saying all I have to say on the blog rather than in the word document. So apologies for being vague. This is how I'm rolling this tine around.

"upon seeing you"

I thought it unlikely to meet
a stranger and know
him for my own.
Before words
or look
or laugh
or smile;
before you I recognized it:
yours was a soul my soul
knew well and
the sweet click of the
latch behind kept us
in the thoroughfare.
Should we go
Do we part here?
Home - safe home -
is gone for now
you are no stranger to me.
And so I smile
and hope
you know the way
because I'm lost already.

"Sweet Serendipity" - Lee DeWyze
"Fall in Love" - Peter Hollens
"Destino" - Walt Disney & Salvador Dali

Monday, March 14, 2016

Eleven on the Eiffel Tower

Hey, Guys! Last Monday I was not at all in town (Tampa is a beautiful place to spend a March Monday), and this Monday I'm late with the post, but I'm definitely posting, so that's something. I did a lot of talking-about-books in Tampa. The friends with whom I stayed are the sort of people who have read widely, who laugh at my affinity for the 19th Century British Novel, and who are able to suggest improvements to my course of reading. I've been told to read Crime And Punishment as soon as possible and to follow it up with some J.D. Salinger ("All of Salinger is great - he only published four books."). While in Tampa, I had the chance to go to Oxford Exchange - probably the most pretentiously-hipster place I ever hope to set foot in. There was, of course, an entire section devoted to books and I did, of course, have to buy at least one. I chose a creative's travel-guide to London in preparation for my trip next year and a newish French novel - The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain. I'm not saying the latter choice was the most groundbreaking literature ever written (it was a simple, sweet, predictable, very enjoyable story), but I loved it. Sometimes, you know, you just want a book that does exactly what you hope it will do. The Red Notebook did that. I got so lost in the book that I momentarily forgot I was in Florida at all and had to blink round for a moment or two before I realized where I was.

Perhaps my favorite part of Oxford Exchange was when I checked out at the desk with the preppy fellow in glasses. He slipped the titles across the desk to himself, palm down. His mouth quirked in a smile as he read the titles.
"London...and Paris....which will it be?"
I laughed. "Going to London next year."
"But why not go to Paris too? I mean, you're already over there." He announced my total and leaned on the counter. "You can take the tunnel or something."
I couldn't not let my cracking-grin out. "Have you been?"
"Yeah. When I was twelve. I wish I remembered more of it. I'm sorry I can't give you recommendations."
"That's all right. I want to go to the Eiffel Tower at eleven o'clock at night." I don't know why I told him that, but it wanted to be announced."
He grinned. "Yeah? Why eleven o'clock?"
"Oh, I don't know. I think it'd be prettiest then. The city might be a little quiet. The lights would all be out. I might have it more to myself."
He tossed his head and laughed. "I bet everyone has that idea."
"Yeah, probably."
"Well, hey, eleven o'clock's all right, but you don't want to be out in Paris after midnight. They say strange things start to happen."
"Is that so?" My mind swirled around and caught hold of his reference, tugging me back to the surface. "Right - well, I think I'll be all right as long as I don't get into any old cars with dead authors."
He beamed. "Exactly - you know, the movie?"
"Yeah! Midnight in Paris." I mentally blessed that random film choice on a Russian airline and turned to leave. "Have a great day."
"You too! Enjoy London and Paris!"

Another bright book-realm moment of the trip was talking home-libraries with one brother and seeing the personal library of the other. So many beautiful hard-bound editions. Such a wealth of knowledge in one location. Do you ever feel like that? Like if you could just make it through the entirety of the shelves (even of one small personal library) you'd be about twice as smart as you currently are? I do constantly. And it's a hopeful thing, you know, because there's always a chance you'll stumble upon some stroke of genius in a yet-unread book.

I've also been inspired recently by something I'm hoping to turn into at least a piece of flash-fiction if not a short story. If I'm really ambitious it could make it into a novella sized story, but we'll see. For now, know that I'm reading Henry V cozily, thumbing again through Chesterton's Orthodoxy as I feel like it, and putting Crime And Punishment on hold at the library. Ho for expanding one's mind!

What are you reading, and do you have any recommendations for really good modern fiction?