The Jig is Up

Ladies and Gents, our time here is done.

grumpy cat

However, FEAR NOT! The party continues over at The Reading Outlaw, my new e-crib!

drunk ron swanson

Hope to welcome you all Cribs style, very soon. Until then, absorb and enjoy the following:

ron swanson and puppy

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OH MY GOODNESS, THE FEELINGS

So, just to start off with something that is TOTALLY not the point – how beautiful is that cover? I mean, I’m a bonafide country girl at heart, and something about those dry twigs, dead grass, and blue/purple flowers make me think of that line from A Color Purple (“I think God get’s pissed off when people walk past the color purple and don’t notice”, or something to that effect). But not only is this book beautiful. It’s also a book that has brought me out of a KILLER READING SLUMP that, if I’m being honest, has been going on for the better part of a year now.

It’s also a book that has made me feel SO. MANY. FEELINGS. All the feelings, indeed. Leila Meacham has given a cast of characters that from the first moment are clearly on the road to intense and emotional drama. When Catherine Ann “Cathy” Benson’s parents die, she is sent from California to the Texas panhandle to live with her grandmother Emma. Emma’s best friend Mabel is the aunt and make-shift mother of two boys, her nephew Trey “TD” and his best friend John. When Mabel asks TD and John to look after Cathy when she arrives, to shephard her through the first few weeks of school, neither boys want to. Because she’s a girl and, you know, duh. But then she shows up and from the moment TD sees her, he’s in love. And, without telling anyone, so is John. SET UP LOVE TRIANGLE, ALREADY, WITH OVER 300 PAGES TO GO!!!!

Needless to say, this is not a set up that is bound to end in puppies and rainbows and all of the other wonderful Nora Ephron-y things. It’s a set up on the HeartBreak train bound for Regret and Life Upset station. But the writing moves forward in such a way that, although sometimes month or year-long gaps will occur between chapters, I see these characters growing and progressing and never once so far has it been that jarring effect that can sometimes come with time gaps. And she’s given us characters to love. The relationship she has set up between these three children who are all, in one way or another, orphans, creates an emotional soil in which the reader is able to explore issues like love, friendship, compassion, dependence, morality, and loyalty. It sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t feel weighty when you’re reading it. It is, in essence, just the kind of book I need right now – something serious and “thinky” enough to keep my mind off impending wedding business, while still funny enough and with endearingly realistic enough characters that the pages flow along at a steady pace. I’m only about 100 pages in, but so far – I’m hooked.

Trey stood stock still on the sidewalk. As he was hidden by the truck, she had not seen him. A feeling he’d never known before took command of him., He felt unable to move, as if he’d been captured in the beam of a spaceship. He could not feel the cold and wind. His hands and feet did not exist. He felt only the shock of having glimpsed an angel drop to earth, then disappear, the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Slowly, when he could get his feet to obey, he turned homeward, the snow like magic dust beneath his boots. He would keep his brief glance of Catherine Ann Benson to himself, a secret he would not share even with John, until tomorrow morning when he would introduce himself to her and become her protector for life.

It didn’t take them long for them to notice she was smart. She finished tests before everyone else and read library books when she wasn’t working, and the teachers called on her for answers when nobody else knew them and read her themes before the class as an example of how they should be written. The teachers praised the neatness of her penmanship while she burned with embarrassment under her classmates sidelong gazes, but not enough to make herself one of them by doing sloppy work.

All human beings were subject to falling below others’ expectations, and Trey was of the particular bent that, once betrayed, there would be no rescuing of the ties that once bound.

Yes, almost since that first day in Miss Whitby’s homeroom, she’d felt linked to Trey. Not tethered, but connected. It was as if, no matter where she went, with whom, or what she did, she was the shore and he was the ocean lying at low tide, but always in sight. Why Trey and not John she didn’t know. John was a dream, and if she were pressed, she’d have to say she admired and respected him more than Trey…but there was an undeniable chemistry between her and Trey, that had always been there, quiet and untapped, and lately when she’d catch him watching her from under hooded lids her skin would tingle and she’d feel as if the air has been sucked from her lungs. In those moments, she sensed the ocean stir, move closer to land, and that feeling, too, made her go warm all over.
‘Catherine Ann…,’ he murmered, over and over like a prayer as he held and caressed her,  and his body had felt so right, so perfect, next to hers that she’d hardly nooticed the prick of pain the moment the ocean had surged to the shore and sand and sea became one. It had been so wonderful that afterwards she’d been astonished – horrified – to feel wetness on her cheek and had turned in his arms to see tears on his face.
‘Trey!’ she’d exclaimed, her heart seizing. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing,’ he said, clutching her fiercely to him, ‘Nothing is the matter. It’s just that…I don’t feel like an orphan anymore.’ (COMMENCE FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS!!!!)

What I’ve Been Reading…Sneak Peek

The last impression I want to give is that I just haven’t read anything from my graduation in May until now! That is far from the case. I haven’t been reading much, and certainly not much of literary merit, but there have been some things. What things, you ask? Well, that’s to come later this week, of course, but for now let me give you this (not altogether sneaky) sneak peek:

 

Thoughts On: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, the First Four

Everyone wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of eighteen short stories published by Ray Bradbury in 1951. The stories are all connected through the man on the cover above, a wanderer and part-time circus worker whose body of deep, illustrious tattoos move and come alive at night, predicting the future and revealing the past. And, while I’m not completely done with the collection at this point, I’m starting to seem some major themes of religion, spirituality, technology, and the value of both life and death beginning to develop! It’s impossible for me to discuss short stories without spoilers, however, so beware now!

“Prologue: The Illustrated Man”

It’s in the prologue that we meet both our narrator and the Illustrated Man. Our narrator is a traveler just completing a hiking trip, and the Illustrated Man describes himself as a part-time carnival worker who occasionally finds work, but inevitably ends up losing it do to the tattoos he bears all over his body. He shows the man his tattoos and explains that at night they come alive, begin to move, and tell the stories of both the past and the future. On his shoulder, however, there remains a jumbled part section of skin that will begin to predict the future of whomever the Illustrated Man is around, given enough time. Night begins to fall, and as the Illustrated Man settles in to sleep, he warns the narrator to not spend too much time staring at the tattoos, or he may get lost in them and learn things he doesn’t want to know.

He was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body…There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest…The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe; the man was a walking treasure gallery.

I LOVED the prologue that Bradbury provides us with! I immediately envied our narrator the chance to look at all the beautiful tattoos, and cursed the lack of detail on the cover of my copy, lol. I also liked the kind of sadness and almost-terror that the Illustrated Man seems to embody, a feeling that I think takes over a lot of the work, making each story a gut-twisting turn towards the least expected, or the most saddening. On the whole, I also enjoy the use of the mans body and his physical tattoos as a semi-psychological bond between the stories being told. Because while each tattoo and story are different, there is a basic commonality they do seem to share.

The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated Man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colors and Picasso colors and the long, pressed-out El Greco bodies.

“The Veldt”

This story is TERRIFYING. We meet the Hadleys, George and Lydia, and their full-on technological smart house. Including a nursery that belongs to their children, where the walls turn in to whatever lands and characters and realms occupy the imagination of their two kids. When the story starts, the nursery has begin displaying a real, scorching, life-like savannah complete with hungry lions, where before it had displayed Wonderland and Aladdin’s cave of wonders. For many days in nights in a row, George and Lydia go to sleep and wake up to the lions, and occasionally hear screams that sound awfully familiar. Afraid of what this could indicate for the children’s imaginations, the parents decide to board up the nursery and shut down the house and take a “vacation” from technology for a few days. The children pitch a fit, and George consents to one last night in the nursery before the shut down begins. But when the parents hear the screams yet again, but louder, the rush in to the nursery hoping to help. What the find, however, is the door locked behind them and the lions prowling closer and closer. The two believe that it’s only an image on the wall until they realize why the screams always sounded so familiar.

How often had he seen Pegasus flying the sky ceiling, or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now, this yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat.

Like I said, I thought this story was truly, chillingly terrifying. Not in a, like, serial killer or GOTCHA! movie kind of way. In a Poe or H.P. Lovecraft kind of way. The coldness behind these two children, who clearly spent weeks imagining their parents death by lion eating, only to orchestrate in the end. And then! AND THEN! At the end, when a friend of the parents drop by, the daughter just offers him tea like nothing happened! Freaky Damien Demon Child! Plus the whole idea of your “smart house” somehow turning on you has always been something that kind of freaked me out about technology. I think that Bradbury does such a good job drawing the reader in to stories only to turn the tables and pull something gut-punching. Some people find it emotionally manipulative or schmarmy. I find it totally. addicting.

Long before you knew what death was you were wishing on someone else.

“Kaleidoscope”

This is so far my absolute favorite story in this collection. This is the only story that, so far, has kept me coming back to it, thinking about it day after day. It’s haunted me because the idea of just floating through space to your end is just…haunting. Daunting. It gives me the chills on a deep level, and one that I think will be with me for quite some time. It’s got a fairly simple plot: the story begins with the explosion of a rocket, and the crew members don’t have time to attach their gravity packs, so they all go floating off in to endless space. We follow one of them, Hollis, as he floats to his death, the only of the astronauts on a path for Earth. The astronauts communicate by radio, going through phases of regret, remembrance, apologies, and cruelty as they float further away. As Hollis hits the atmosphere, he burns, and on Earth a young boy makes a wish on what he thinks is a shooting star.

When life is over it is like a flicker of bright film, an instant on the screen, all of its prejudices and passions condensed and illumined for an instant on space, and before you could cry out, “There was a happy day, there a bad one, there an evil face, there a good one,” the film burned to a cinder, the screen went dark.

I’ve already explained some of the reason that I love this story so much. If this were to happen, I think that the emotional overload is nicely portrayed by Bradley. So many different phases, from anger to bargaining and finally to acceptance, when you know what is coming and there is nothing to do but wait and…well, make peace. I think that the writing speaks for itself. It most definitely speaks to me.

There were differences between memories and dreams.

The quality of death, like that of life, must be of an infinite variety, and if one has already died once, then what was there to look for in dying for good and all, as he was now?

Hollis looked to see, but saw nothing. There was only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God’s voice mingling among the crystal fires.

If only I could do one good thing to make up for the meanness I collected all these years and didn’t even know was in me! But there’s no one here but myself, and how can you do good all alone? You can’t.

“The Other Foot”

Of these first four, this was actually the story that I liked the least. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. Of course. Lol. This story again takes place in the future, in space, on the planet Mars. In the alternate history of this story, the African Americans left Earth for Mars shortly after the Civil Rights movement, and have been living there sense. On the day the story opens, white people are landing his rocket ship on Mars for the first time in history. Hattie and Willie and their neighbors are going to see the landing, and Willie puts in to action a hateful plan to remind the white people just how horrible they were once treated: he paints WHITES ONLY on the back seats of buses, and has the town begin designating sections for white eaters. He essentially establishes the Jim Crow south. And then the rocket lands. And it’s just one white man, an emissary from an Earth that is destroyed by nuclear war. As the man continues to talk, Willie learns that all the places he ever knew – his home town, the house where his mother was shot, the tree his father was lynched from – were all destroyed in the war. And, he realizes, with Hattie’s help, if the places that held his memories of hate are gone, perhaps he can let go of his hate. Willie tells the men to dismantle his racist plan, and Willie claims to have finally, for the first time that day, to have truly seen the white man.

She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and, once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with.

This story was nice! It was nice to see Willie realize how silly has plan of revenge racism had been, and I was glad that Hattie was basically vindicated, since she’d been trying to make him see that all along. I also thought that the story made an interesting point on hate and memory – if the peoples, places, or things that remind or embody what we hate the most are gone, destroyed, don’t we essentially punish ourselves by keeping that hate alive in memory only. I’m reminded of that scene in Forrest Gump where he takes Jenny back to the house where she was abused as a child and she just keeps throwing rocks at it until she’s emotionally broken, and then later in the film he has it torn down for her. That example has always been a great example of how we, as people, tie our memories up in things, in objects and places and even people.

Nothing, nothing of it left to hate – not an empty brass gun shell, or a twisted hemp, or a tree, or even a hill of it to hate.

I’m sorry all of that was so long! I won’t make it any longer by apologizing more, but needless to say I’m having a GREAT time really digging in to these Ray Bradbury stories, and am excited for what I’ve officially decided will be my summer of Neil Gaiman!

On Marriage, Money, and Mortification

*I had this entire post written up, ready to go, I hit ‘published’, and apparently WordPress decided that I didn’t need to actually publish the post, and it was all erased. needless to say – irritated.*

So by now my reading of Middlemarch has brought me through page 700, a bit past the start of Book Eight, “Two Temptations”. And damn – people in Middlemarch need to quit marrying out of duty/family/baby’s from the cradle. It seems like the only people in the book who are actually in any kind of healthy relationship are Mary and Fred, and that’s probably just because they aren’t actually in any kind of relationship, but rather are merely in the phase of promising and dreaming of a relationship. Seeing how that phase worked out for everyone else in the novel, I don’t necessarily think that’s a promising sign for these two.

I want to start by addressing the parts of the book that I have no intention of addressing: namely, anything having to do with the Reform, Mr. Brooke’s running for Parliament, and anything having to do with general politics or agriculture of any kind. While I can appreciate why Eliot included these bits in her novel – not only do they serve to create a fuller picture of the Provencal life she paints, but I imagine this was an issue on the minds of many writers at the time – let’s get it straight. These parts be BORING. So boring. Like, eyes glazing and skipping over the pages boring. Which I’m trying REALLY hard to prevent, because I want to give this book the attention it deserves on it’s first read through, but it’s hard when these huge paragraphs (or God forbid whole chapters) pop up. So lets get on to talking about what I think is the heart of the novel: the relationships between the primary sextet (which means, to me, Fred, Mary, Dorothea, Will, Rosamond, and Lydgate).

Oh, Fred and Mary. I think I like these two best of all. They seem to be the most…rational, at least. I love the way that Fred seems to really grow up throughout the course of the novel, and that everything he does really does seem to be for Mary and their possible future together. I think that Mary is an admirable character, namely in the fact that she’s so much less of a sycophant than so many of the other girls in the novel! I’m sure that it helps that she has her own source of income and the fact that her family isn’t bat-shit crazy, but I think it’s refreshing to see regardless. I have a good feeling that these two will eventually end up together, but I hope it’s not until after Mary gives in to Fred a little bit and Fred has learned even more to take responsibility for himself and his future.

Speaking of futures, this brings us rather nicely to a discussion of Dorothea and Will, definitely the saddest and most tragically wonderful couple in the story. I feel like if you were going to point at one relationship and say ‘See, totes Victorian’, it would be Dodo and Will (does anyone automatically think Dodo bird whenever Celia uses this particular endearment? If you didn’t, sorry – bet you will now!) I mean, there couldn’t be more things standing in the way of these two being together – Casaubon’s stupidpants will, Dorothea’s skewed sense of loyalty, Will’s pride, the opinions of the townsfolk towards Will, which is totally of the

Condescending Wonka

variety. It makes me sad for the two of them, honestly, but it also makes me even more sure that they’ll totally end up together and happy and somehow Dorothea won’t lose all her new money in the bargain. Also, did anyone else pick up on a bit of the Anne/Mr. Wentworth vibe when Will does all his talking about making himself better and securing a better position all for Dodo’s sake? I can only hope that their ending is that romantic!

And, lastly, I want to talk about Rosamond and Lydgate. OH MY DEAR SWEET SWEATPANTS, ROSAMOND. I thought we were cool – I was kind of digging on the sweet and innocent dreamer routine you had going. And then you started talking more and you quickly went from this:

to this:

First World Problems

I mean, seriously. This girl might just be the whiniest character I’ve ever run across in literature. And there’s poor Lydgate, in a marriage he wasn’t planning on, trying his hardest to get by even after the people of Middlemarch are just, like *eyerollatthenewdoctor*, and Rosamond just keeps running him in to debt and taking silly pregnant horseback rides and carrying secret desires to galavant with Will and then, when Lydgate has the nerve to ask her to tone down the spending, she goes behind his back to his family like a total Smarmerton! WAY NOT COOL. But then. Oh, but then. There is this:

“‘I have only wanted to prevent you from hurrying us into wretchedness without any necessity,’ said Rosamond, the tears coming again from a softened feeling now that her husband had softened. ‘It is so very hard to be disgraced here among all the people we know, and to live in such a miserable way. I wish I had died with the baby.” (p.718)

I MEAN COME ON?!?!?!?! Who above the age of six responds like that?!

Anyway. Needless to say, I’ve about had with Rosamond, that silly twit of a girl, and I’m not sure I can take much more of her in the 300-some pages I’ve got left! In personal news, things with the wedding are rolling right along, although I just got bummer news today that the local farmstead in my town (where we were hoping to have the reception) is booked for our date, so now I’m just trying to scramble a bit and find another place! I’m feeling way under the weather today, and what with a late night last night (including some rather silly, unexplainable issues with WordPress) I think just about the only thing I can handle today are the last few chapters of The Magician’s Nephew, the first chronicle in the Narnia series, which is the small book that’s been keeping me company all week. What about you? What book’s been holding your hand and getting you by this week?