Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Slimmer You May Be A Whiff Away

Judging by my reaction to passing a Cinnabon at the Mall, I can only believe this would make me more hungry, not less.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Lou!

Today in 1903, Lou Gehrig was born.

I'm no Yankees fan, but I have great admiration for Lou Gehrig, legendary Yankees first baseman from 1925 to 1939.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

May I Have A Word? Updated: I Knew I'd Be Back

Gentlefolk, I am on page 22, (22!!) and already I've had to look up two words in A Judgement In Stone. Blast those clever Brits and their fancy vocabularies.

The first word was atavistic, which appeared on page 1 (page 1!!). Merriam-Webster says this: 1 a: recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination b: recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity [architectural atavism].

How sad am I that I'm not entirely sure I understand definition a. Thankfully, M-W's suggests that "throwback" is a close synonym. Huzzah!

Here is the sentence in which it appeared, "She had the awful, practical sanity of the atavistic ape disguised as twentieth-century woman."

Do you think "throwback" really helps that sentence be more clear? The jury's still out for me.

OK, here's the second word, limpid. It's a word I've read a thousand times, and I've always gleaned a sort of definition from the context in which it was used. But since I was consulting old M-W for atavistic, I figured I might as well get straight on limpid.

1 a
: marked by transparency : pellucid <limpid streams> b: clear and simple in style <limpid prose> 2: absolutely serene and untroubled

And here's the sentence, "A limpid blue sky, pale green wheat growing, a cuckoo calling -- in May he sings all day -- an exultation of birds carolling their territorial claims from every tree."

Two words in 22 pages, the first word on page 1, and I'm not sure I helped myself understand the first sentence. I think I'll be back here for more before this book is over.

Updated 8:19 pm for phthisic,
the adjective version of phthises: a progressively wasting or consumptive condition ; especially : pulmonary tuberculosis

"In his fantasies Melinda even looked different, paler, thinner, rather phthisic, very much of another world."

Our Heroine is Not a Saint (not that I needed a book to tell me that)

My feelings about Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly are truly mixed. I received a copy through (greatest thing EVAH!) on Monday and finished it last night.

A quick summary: J. Blue, the hero, is a young feller who decides to live his Christianity radically -- a modern day St. Francis of Assisi -- in 1920's Boston. He is not the narrator. The narrator is a successful captain of industry who befriends Blue (and is alternately puzzled and frustrated by him). The narrator recounts various episodes from Blue's life, and one gets the sense that the narrator is hopeful that by describing Blue to us, he will better understand him as well.

Ok, first, I love this idea! I truly am curious: what WOULD St. Francis get up to these days? And I also love this deliberate contrast between the narrator and the hero. We are obviously supposed to identify with our narrator: like him, we are most likely comfortable, worldly and cautious.

So far, so good, right? is when I get my mixed feelings. My big problem? I found Blue to be supremely annoying. Now, at first I just told myself it's a measure of what an old pagan I am that I thought Blue was so vexatious. I reminded myself that people often thought real saints were crazy, because their lives were so radically different from the average. BUT, even granting that, there was something cold and unfeeling about Blue that I've never found in the real saints. And it really ticked me off.

For example, he never asks how the narrator is. This poor narrator is always worrying about Blue, and trying to take care of Blue, and visiting Blue in whatever crazy places he's living. And Blue only ever repays him with blank stares and/or light mockery of his worldliness. This put me in mind of St. Jose Maria Escriva. I've read excerpts of his letters to the faithful, and while he can be very blunt, and at times harsh in his advice, there is no question those letters are full of tenderness and love and humor for each of his little sheep. It's that tenderness and love for the narrator that I don't get from Blue.

I think the problem might be that it's difficult, if not impossible, for a non-saint to create an imaginary saint. I can't even imagine how that level of holiness would manifest itself, but if I were to try, I bet I would imagine something cold and unreal like Blue. And that's the issue at the heart of my feelings for the book: real saints are anything but cold and unreal.

Anyhow, if anyone else has read it, I'd be curious to know your thoughts. Especially if you loved it. What was I missing that you got from the story?

OH! And next up, a murder mystery. The classic, A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Our Heroine Learns That Sometimes a Giant Martian Seal Creature is Only a Giant Martian Seal Creature

Sometimes, as a retired English-major (though not very good one), I make the mistake of looking for "meaning" in novels to the exclusion of all else. Not with all books, certainly not with beach reading, but mostly with books written by intellectuals. I don't suppose I am the only one who does this, though I wish it weren't so. Because, as in the case of Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis, I occasionally come dangerously close to missing out on a terrifically magnificent adventure story because I'm just so fixated on tweezing out the "meaning" of it all.

First, the back o' the book plot summary:
Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable [philologist] Dr. Ransom. Here, that estimable man is abducted [by two English adventurers] and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra [Mars]. Once on the planet, he eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth. First published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force from one of our best-loved writers.
I mean, how dense am I? The back of the book practically smacked me upside the head with the announcement that this was an adventure, but I swear I spent the first quarter of the book trying to figure out what Lewis's game was. Was this book really about mythology vs. history? No? Allright, then was it really about the need for humility in science? Again no? Surely, if nothing else, it must be about Christianity, right? This is Lewis, after all. But I was wrong on all counts. It's not that there isn't a bit of mythology-as-history in there, and a sprinkling about the arrogance of a certain kind of scientism, and maybe even a jigger of Christianity in there. But that's just because Lewis wrote it, and these things color how he sees the world. In all honesty this book is just the story of a clever Oxford don who finds himself ON MARS, with two blokes who want to kill him, and how he uses his particular set of smarts to escape and survive on a strange, inhabited planet.

Once I let go and just enjoyed it as a story, I must say it was tremendous. There are at least three episodes that had me weak with suspense, and it was charming to read how space travel and Mars were imagined by someone who lived before NASA. And as one of the very first science-fiction novels, I was impressed by just how many of the hallmarks of the genre are already in place here, without any of the over-imagined bloat that I dislike in so many more modern sci-fi novels. It's beautiful, spare and exciting.

When I went hunting for an image to associate with this post, I got the video clip below in my search results. It's from the movie Shadowlands, and it made me feel worlds better about overthinking the book at first. "Far greater minds than mine," as you will see:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just Something to Think About as You Go About Your Business

God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense." - C. S. Lewis

I love C.S. Lewis and he's been on my mind the last two days because I am reading Out of The Silent Planet, which is Book I of his Space Trilogy. I'll have more to say about it tomorrow, most likely, but in the meantime I was thinking of all the great quotes I've cribbed from Lewis over the years for my quote journal, and the above was a leading candidate.