It’s nearing the end of March, and we’ve had some times this month. We held our breath for weeks to see if we’d get a house we hoped to restore to it’s previous glory. The details didn’t sort themselves out in our favor, and so we go back to the drawing board, wondering why we aren’t content ever to just work jobs and earn a living and watch our kids grow up in this town. I got to see one of those elusive sunrises this morning on my way home from an early grocery run. When I got home, Daniel was sitting on the couch researching the weather in Cotacachi, Ecuador (perpetual springtime?!). I told him about my first adventure in Ecuador, hiking down an unknown cobblestone road with strangers, on our way to “the white mountain.” Three hours later we stopped for Fanta in a small town and did our best to ask how long it would take us to reach “el montaaynyo blanco.” (Did I mention one of the strangers was a redneck mountain man? Have you ever heard a North Georgian try to speak Spanish?) The sweet local was kind enough to not outright laugh, but you could tell it was a struggle. He used a series of gestures and baby talk to let us know it would take us three days to walk to Cotapaxi. We paid for the Fanta and headed back to our original location. Something in the telling of this story caught my heart, maybe the fact that my overseas adventures happened so so long ago and mostly without my best friend. I see us sitting down to write some long-term life goals for ourselves one day soon.
Winter seems to be dragging its soggy feet on the way out this year, but I’ve been coping by reading some really beautiful fiction. I wanted to reread one of the first books that caused shifting in my brain plates as a young person. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is still a dream of a story for me 20 years later. If you’ve not read it, go now and check it out from the library. It’s a quick 180 pages, and there’s not a wasted moment in the story. In brief, Guy Montag is a fireman in future America, where life moves at a furious pace with little independent thought, meaningful human interaction, or simple appreciation for nature and beauty. Books are outlawed, and firemen are called upon to burn books and the homes of their owners. After meeting his young neighbor, Montag’s eyes begin to open and he steps outside the norm and his role. Montag recalls an old English professor, Faber, he’d once encountered at a park and goes to him for help. This pairing is wonderful, the dialogue between them full of gems. One of my favorite of Faber’s rants:
The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved by any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.
That last bit’s just a sweet little foreshadow, as well. There are a million phrases in here I love. Faber’s exclamation, “But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority.”Even the quote opening the book is perfect: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” (Juan Ramon Jiménez)
Toward the end of the story Montag meets Granger, who has a grandfather full of brilliant sayings (the grandfather is nameless, and I suspect he’s only brought into play because Bradbury had more monologuing for Faber but had already written his character out of the story). That poor old grandfather just sent my heart reeling after our month of bated breath and subsequent dreaming.
“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”
Other books I’ve read recently:
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon–I have no idea how Chabon made Grady Tripp, a doped up, washed up, playboy loser such a compelling character, but I couldn’t set him aside. Maybe I’m the only one, but I laughed myself silly the last third of the book. There was definitely some magic in this one, and I will be reading more of Chabon in the future. (Save yourself a few hours and skip the movie starring Michael Douglas.)
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson–Mr. Wilson is a sort-of-local writer (Sweetwater, TN). I couldn’t explain how I came upon his book, but when I saw that Ann Patchett (another of my very favorites) described this as “A comedy, a tragedy, and a tour-de-force examination of what it means to make art and survive your family” I was in. The Family Fang is one of the most bizarre stories I have read, and I had a blast with it. Wilson has a way of telling that is subtle and gentle, but way beyond typical. Where my brain wants to find a period, he manages to squeeze in just a few more words to really add to the beauty. For example, “Buster emptied his pockets of the pennies he had taken earlier and lined them up in two equal stacks. He and his sister then took turns tossing them back into the fountain, each making wishes that they hoped were simple enough to come true.” See, I would’ve stopped after “wishes.” Another, “In his entire life, he had kissed five women. One of them had been his sister. This was, Buster understood, a terrible percentage. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d had sex and still have enough fingers left over to make a complicated shadow puppet.” I would’ve ended at “sex.” It’s fun to let good writing be your teacher.
The Solitue of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (who is a HOTTIE)–Achingly sad, and yet absolutely incredible. Chapter 2 ripped my heart to shreds because it is emotionally true to some of the heaviness of my childhood self. This book follows the lives of two children, Alice and Mattie, each broken young by tragedy, and broken again and again by the fallout from their pasts. Their lives cross and intersect and weave through and out again. The unspoken things in this story are what really weigh so much. It was absolutely a breathtaking telling. I wanted to find the perfect quote, and there are just so many. Here’s a section I really liked.
Mattia knew what needed to be done. He had to get out of there and sit back down on that sofa, he had to take her hand and tell her I shouldn’t have left. He had to kiss her once more and then again, until they were so used to that gesture that they couldn’t do without it. It happened in films and it happened in reality, every day. People took what they wanted, they clutched at coincidences, the few there were, and made a life from them. He had either to tell Alice I’m here, or leave, take the first plane and disappear again, go back to the place where he had been hanging for all those years.
By now he had learned. Choices are made in brief seconds and paid for in the time that remains.
So much beauty, so little time. I’m gonna have to just go out and see it all for myself.
Anyway, check out one, or all, of the books above! Uhh . . . spring break is here, summer soon to follow . . . maybe don’t pick any of these for light, beach reading. :) BUT, I will find something fun and maybe less tragic in the coming weeks and tell you all about it.