Monday, May 21, 2012

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

“I was carried away, swept along by the mighty stream of words pouring from the hundreds of pages. To me it was the ultimate book: once you had read it, neither your own life nor the world you lived in would ever look the same.” Ma in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


The older I get, the more rebellious I become. Even when I try to plan my own reading, I sabotage myself. I have countless books lined up at home and on my Kindle that I am supposed to be reading. I am in the middle of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.  And yet, last Friday, I felt a library trip was in order. So, out of pure rebellion (and because non-fiction starves my poet soul), this past week-end, instead of finishing The Swerve or reading any of the other 500 books piled up at my house, I read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.

At least I chose a book that would feed the poet soul. I won’t say I loved the book or even that I found the translation fantastic. I wish my French were such that I could read the original. But, a small volume about the importance of literature, romance, art, and beauty in the midst of the soul-starving Chinese communist regime was just what I needed in my reading life right now.

One concept I found especially interesting was the narrator’s compulsion to collect the words of Balzac, so much so that he wrote them on the inside of his sheep-skin jacket when he couldn’t find any paper. I have often wondered if the compulsion to collect words and passages of beauty was just an oddity of mine and my own way of “writing” when I feel so inept and lacking with my own words. Something about being surrounded by beauty, whether reading it or just copying it, provides comfort.

And, of course, instead of going back to my “assigned” reading, I have now gone to the library and checked out two works by Balzac.  "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." (John Lennon)    

Monday, May 7, 2012

Suffering is Good for You - The Cove by Ron Rash

Photo by Anna Reavis

But just hearing music, even the saddest sort of song, lets you know you’re not all of every way alone, that someone else has known the likesomeness of what you have.”  Laurel Shelton
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought to wish I could talk to my mama.  The Cove, by Ron Rash, made me wish just that.  The truth in the cadences of the old speech, the speech of my grandparents, makes me miss them and by extension her. I'd forgotten how much I miss those voices, the voices of my past.
Of all the themes in The Cove, the one that resonates most with me is Laurel Shelton’s determination to overcome all the hate, prejudice, and ostracism leveled at her in a community I know well, figuratively speaking. As I read, I thought about people I know who have suffered.  There is a depth, a complexity, a complication, in them all.  There are no easy answers; there is no ease.  Having lived through hard times can make you feel untouchable, above the everyday, even above the people around you.  But the truth is we are all of the earth; we are all bound by gravity to the dirt under our feet.  You have to learn to live in the midst of humanity:  sweltering, stinking, hateful, and glorious as we all are.  You learn to make your life what you want it to be, without regard for your pain.  And that is exactly what Laurel Shelton does.  She takes every bad turn given her, moves on, and turns hope into life, however briefly.  This is the story of a life bravely lived, even though Laurel probably would have been too humble to realize it.   Bravery of the everyday kind is often the hardest to come by.

Our Dirty Glass Castles

photo by Amy Brandon   "Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" ~Miss Kenton in The Remains of the...