Wednesday, July 01, 2009

June in Summary

June began with the death of a friend’s brother. For those of you trying to keep track that’s five deaths since April Fool’s Day. Then about the middle of June we celebrated Rob’s 38th birthday. It was a quiet celebration. Joe once again wasn’t with us so it was just Rei, Marc, and me trying to make his day as special as possible. I think I succeeded in some small way because he gave me the new Dave Matthews Band cd because I had “tried to make my birthday special.” Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King is now officially in my collection and I am only missing about half a dozen or so of the Live Trax collection. At this rate I shall never catch up. I really did try to make his birthday special but the things I wanted to do were out of reach and circumstances precluded even my most conservative desires. The month ended with things being not so great but since nobody else died this month it has been better than either April or May and for this I am grateful. Perhaps July will have no new deaths. That would be nice. Books Read Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich The Blue Notebook by James A Levine Decent People, Decent Company by Robert L Turknett and Carolyn N Turknett You Are How You Move by Ged Sumner Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Hands down, the best book I read this month was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. One of those rare books I would recommend without any reservations to anyone and everyone. Movies Seen (for the first time) A Passage to India – The movie is visually lovely. Unfortunately, it takes liberties with the story that negate the full impact of the novel. Gattaca – Interesting. Predictable. The more I see of Jude Law, the more I like him. What’s up with that? Tropic Thunder – There’s no way I would’ve seen this had someone not given it to Rob. Surprise. I laughed. Maybe because I’ve seen enough Vietnam movies to get the references. That and I love Robert Downey Jr. Music in Another Room – Cute. Ummmm yeah. That’s it. Has the lovely Jude Law and the annoying Jennifer Tilly. Perhaps they cancel out one another. The Exorcist: Beginnings – Why? Why did they make this? Why did I watch it? The novel, which I read as a teenager, was more interesting than all of the movies combined. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – Not sure why they have to keep milking this cash cow. The Last Crusade was soooo good and The Temple of Doom soooo horrid. The Crystal Skull was just another visit to a well that is pretty much dry.
Television Shows
Rob and I watched Dexter Season 2. For those of you who are paying attention, yes this means we watched season three before season two. I have to say that if we hadn’t, I think that season two would have pushed me to the edge of wanting to watch the show into not wanting to watch it. I can’t say that the show was any more dark than in the other seasons and it was still brilliantly written and acted so it isn’t the quality at all. But it just felt different too me. Less safe. Far more threatening. I have my theories about why but to explore them here would be to have spoilers so I’ll just leave it at that. I am looking forward to season four, thanks to the less threatening and still intense season three. They say things happen for a reason. Maybe the reason I saw season three before I saw season two was so that I wouldn’t give up on the show prematurely.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion’s memoir about her husband’s death, an even that happened at a time when the couple was already dealing with the health crisis of their only daughter, newly married and in an ICU. Months after the death, the daughter would be back in the hospital having surgery to relieve some bleeding in her brain.

That is as objective as I can be about this brilliant book. I found myself devouring it because I could understand Didion’s response, her reactions, her ways and means of coping. Not because, thank goodness, I had any relevant experience even remotely close to her own feelings of loss and grief. But her turning to words, to poetry, to reading as a coping mechanism made sense to me.

As much so as those moments of madness where maybe she wasn’t quite holding onto the reality of her world to the same degree as before. And why would she? Why should she hold onto a world where her husband of forty years could die in the living room while she prepared their dinner only a few short hours after they had visited their daughter who was in a coma? What kind of world is it that finally allows a woman to have the funeral for her husband after their only daughter has emerged from the coma only to have her child collapse when the healing is finally (maybe) going to begin?

When I began reading I inevitably thought of C S Lewis’ A Grief Observed, drawing parallels. Both authors are devout Christians. Both lose the love of their lives. Both are literati, bound to seek solace in the pages of books. There the similarities ended. I liked Lewis; I adore Didion. I cannot explain accurately why this should be and I suppose someone will someday write a paper in some college course, comparing and contrasting the two documents to better understand the differences in how the two authors approached the writing of their own pain.

Even when Didion quotes from Lewis, the difference is hinted at. Lewis observed his grief through a filter of intellectualizing and spiritualizing. In his book the pain of loss is hinted at but assuaged by the presence of faith, of hope, of the promises he found in the Bible. Didion, on the other hand, is quietly imploding, going through the motions of her life in hopes of regaining some semblance of balance. Her grief is keening, is tearing a hole in cloth over the heart to expose the rawness of her experience. She tries to intellectualize, to understand through reading what it is she is feeling, but she cannot because what she is feeling is so much more than words.

I suspect that somewhere between the lines there is so much more than her words could measure, so much more pain and memory that she never allowed to become concretized into syllables. I only suspect this because I can’t imagine that Didion, with her seeming transparency, would ever fully expose herself or her loved ones on the page. Perhaps I am wrong. I also suspect that this is a book I will find myself turning to again, someday, because her grief, her mourning, I understand. Lewis, who seems to observe from a reserved distance, doesn’t embrace the absolutely rawness of Didion’s experience and it is this passion that I know resonates more fully with my own.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama is a novel about a marriage broker in India, about his own family, and about the people around him including his unmarried (and not rich enough for his services) assistant, the housekeeper who comes to help his wife every day, and, of course, about the people who come to him for help in finding the perfect mate. Added to this mix are the people who come and go, who are seeking marriage for themselves, a son, a daughter, or other family relative. In the end, this is a beach book, a novel meant to be read lightly. Throughout the telling of the story, I never felt immersed in the events of the story. Rather, I felt Zama was telling me about Indian life, about how marriages are arranged in a culture still struggling against its caste system roots, and about a small group of people whose lives become intertwined. But telling a story and having a reader lose themselves in the characters, the setting, and the plot are not the same thing and because I never got so caught up in the story that I couldn’t put the book down, I can’t say that I recommend it. I didn’t dislike it enough to say much against it. I think that Zama was very interested in sharing his culture with the reader but never shared it in an intimate or even passionate way. At times, he even becomes a bit pedantic as he speaks/lectures to the reader through his characters. According to the back cover, the author wrote this novel while commuting to and from work and while sitting in front of the television. Perhaps he should turn the television off.