Monday, November 5, 2012

Goldilocks and The Three Books

On a recent quest, I was on the lookout for a book that spoke to me outside of my usual mystery series.  Those I love but it’s good to occasionally expand my horizon and try books I might not read otherwise.  It was a bumpy road.   

Have you ever wondered why it is that someone loves a book and others hate it?  I have and I may have even found out part of the answer.  In life, there are observers and participants.  Most of us vacillate between the two.  More recently, I’ve been more of an observer than a participant; probably part of being middle-aged.  Not that I don’t occasionally step out from behind my shield, but I have tended to be more of a watcher in life, until suddenly, I’m not.  

One place I definitely am not is when I read, and then I'm very much an emotional participant.  I actually feel what the book’s characters are feeling, almost like I’m playing their part on stage.  That’s great when it’s good (some of you may remember my story about first listening to a book while driving) but it can be a bit taxing when it isn’t.  Sometimes it can even become a bit hellish for me.    
I came across the first book through my book club.  It was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and since I had the CD, I listened to it in my car.  Let me first say that it is a well written book.  It is set in both India and New York in the mid-1980s and the story is one that really brings you into the unrest in that part of India as well as the plight of the undocumented workers here in the United States.  I found it to be very gritty, filled with humiliation, hatred, greed and abusive violence.  Nobody really won. 

A friend who had read this book previously had thought about me when she finished it and knew that I would hate the book.  How well she knows me.  It made me wonder how she didn’t feel the same.  What I learned is that some, including my friend, read more as an observer, like watching a play instead of being in the play.  She was able to keep it at arm’s length, enjoy the writing and not be as negatively impacted as I had been.

Isn't it curious how we can be observers in one aspect in life and participants in others? 

I moved on to the next book.  This time I tried a bestseller, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  It was an easy and quick read, almost as if it had been written to become a screenplay.   My guess is that it will be.  Essentially this is a sociopathic 'he said, she said' story about a couple’s downward spiral.  Oh joy!  While I did find it somewhat compelling, I can’t really say I liked the book.  Personally, I’m really not very fond of being inside the mind of a sociopathic killer.  Yet it was interesting, to say the least, and I liked it a little more than the previous book.  

I was beginning to feel a little like Goldilocks. 

Finally, my third choice was one I had previously returned to the library without reading, The Night Circus, a fantasy novel by Erin Morgenstern.  It is a story of illusion.  Along with the beauty and mystery, there is manipulation and cruelty, but there is also love.  There is a circus, though one that is only open at night; a place where illusionists focus on hiding that the magic is real, as opposed to convincing the audience that the false trick is magic.   

Though it can be a little challenging to follow this book, at least initially, with its multiple time lines and questionably connected characters, I found the story to be alluring to both the observer and the emotional participant within me.  Everyone and everything was more chimera than real.  I could never completely grasp onto the illusion.  It was a little like falling in love.  All I could do was meander through the beautiful fantasy and enjoy the ride; which I most certainly did.  Oh, and I also began to crave caramel covered popcorn.  

There’s a line in this book that I love.  It tells of how a tale told may take up residence in someone’s soul, and become their blood and self and purpose.  When I do find a book that resonates with me, like this one, that is exactly how I feel.    

Like Goldilocks, I found the right fit on the third try.  Now, I just need to watch out for bears…


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Growing Up is Hard to Do

When did you consider yourself an adult? 

That’s one of the questions asked when discussing The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, a story about three very different sisters, each with big issues, who come home to ostensibly help their parents deal with their Mom’s breast cancer.  Quoting Shakespeare, integral to this family’s story, is an interesting way they all avoid communication.  It makes growing up a bit more difficult for all.

In our discussion, many thought it was having children that made them feel like adults.  One person went as far as to say she sees the difference between her two children and how the one with a child was more adult in her opinion.  I was okay with that until she then made some comment about how she wasn’t sure everyone in the room was an adult.  That not only caught my attention, it got my inner Bridget Jones dialogue going.  I kept hearing the lines about ‘smug marrieds’ and ‘tick tock, tick tock’ while I struggled to keep my big mouth shut.

Did that mean that the rest of us, those without children, are not yet adults?  Honestly, I’m feeling inclined to shake my rattle in protest.  How many people are out there who have had children and are far from mature?  I don’t want to point fingers but you know who you are.

But I digress.

What is it that makes one an adult?  Perhaps it goes back to something my father said when I was young, responsibility; being responsible for your own choices, good or bad and not blaming others when they haven’t worked out.  My dad stayed with me recently and that visit got me thinking that it was also about acceptance.  Accepting those we love for who they are and the decisions they make, even if we don't always like their choices.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop nagging him about drinking more water and walking a little more.  I’m stubborn that way.  Why do you think the guest room is on the second floor?

Then there’s doing the right thing, even when the right thing is a lot more challenging.  Like standing side by side with my father while we jointly made the funeral arrangements for my mother, or knowing when it is time to take one’s beloved animal companion to the vet for the last time, or even just honoring a friend's choice on their preference to keep their fatal illness private.  Hard stuff but all are part of being an adult, at least in my opinion. 

Do I think the three weird sisters became adults over the course of the story?  No, not really.  I think they’re still lacking in maturity but I do think they begin to make better choices on their journey to become so.  Like all of us, they are a work in progress.

While writing today, I’ve had that old Peter Pan song about never growing up in my head and almost feel a need to sing it out loud in my very off key voice, if only it wouldn’t scare the cat.  Yes, I do consider myself an adult but I also occasionally slip up.  Especially when someone else buys Oreo cookies and I end up eating way more than my share (yea, yea, I’m talking to you Pop).

And of course, I’ll always still slide open the cookie and eat the cream stuffing first…


Monday, September 10, 2012

A Passion for Art

A friend said he thought it was important that people be passionate about something.  While I agreed, it had me wondering about just what that might mean to me.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself spending time relishing the brilliance of Dale Chihuly’s art at both the new Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle and the private studio where they put some of the pieces together.  Seeing both, especially the studio, brought to mind my fascination with how glass artists reign in the passions of fire to create amazingly beautiful pieces of art.

Passion!  It’s what makes life more interesting and colorful.  It also is what inspires and adds joy to one’s very soul.  Color is one thing I have always felt passionate about.  It stimulates my brain and lets me find artistic inspiration everywhere, especially in nature; the textures and tints of the trees, how flowers add touches of visual surprise.
This ardor for color and art drew me to Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland; that, and my book club.  The book had a slow start and it was a little too long so I hadn't finished it by the discussion last spring.  After my Chihuly visit, I decided to pick it up again, but this time it was through the eyes of an artist that I read.  For I found I could relate to the enthusiasm with how Clara saw the natural beauty in life and then incorporated it into stunning art. 

The book is a fictionalized story of the woman who ran the women’s glass department at Tiffany’s.  In reading some other historical accounts, it’s speculated that she may have been the actual creative genius behind many of the Tiffany lamps associated with Louis Comfort Tiffany. 

Louis was an artist and a great lover of beauty, though he had his shortcomings, pun intended.  While he employed women to be artisans at a time when no one else would, he also had some onerous stipulations, like the fact that once married, a woman would need to give up her job and income.  He is also depicted as an extravagant spendthrift and somewhat of a narcissistic tyrant, especially to his family.  Yet he did seem to nurture and encourage creativity in his artists.

Life in the late 1800s/early 1900s New York is depicted.  It’s a bit bleak as there’s a lot about the hard life and poverty of recent immigrants as well as the plight of women in the arts trade.  Though Clara was well respected and seemed to live reasonably well, life was not easy for many.  Even Clara herself had a few challenges to deal with.
I don't know that I would have made the same choices as Clara, the woman, but what kept me with the book this time was that I loved being inside the mind of Clara, the artist.  It intrigued me to see how she took beauty and interpreted it through the colors and textures of glass.  It is also why I love Chihuly’s art.  He does the same.

I know that I may never be the artist that Clara was or Chihuly is, but I also know that I will always appreciate and feel the joy and passion in each piece created.  And that may be enough for me.  

After all, I am, if nothing else, a passionate being with at least the soul of an artist…