Friday, June 05, 2009
The Blue Notebook by James Levine begins as a beautiful and brutal narrative about a young girl’s life when she is sold into life as a prostitute, which is to say she is sold into slavery. Set in India, the narrator, Butak, was inspired by an incident when the author met with a child prostitute who was sitting, writing in a notebook. Through Butak, the reader shares in the harsh reality of what it means to be a child prostitute and, because Levine infuses Butak with a beautiful voice, much of her story is told through metaphor and brilliant imagery. “I lie on a bed of everlasting youth, and those who lie with me taste youth. It is not a bed of eternal life, for my life will only be eternal when I die.”
Unfortunately, the novel fails in the end. While the first half of the novel is explicit in the horrors of prostitution, there are times when one wonders if there isn’t some implied eroticism not very different from the explicit and exploitative violence of slasher movies. By the end of the novel, whatever doubt there might is has flown out the window and the implied intent of the story becomes lost in a melodramatic climax and denouement worthy of any soap opera but unworthy of this novel’s beginning.
I hate that I didn’t love this novel, not only because I do love the first part so very much but also because the proceeds of the sale for this novel will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children. I wanted desperately to adore this novel so that my encouragement might stir others to spend money on this novel and support a very worthy cause. I wish I could encourage people to read this novel. At best, I can only encourage people to read the first 106 pages. Better yet, read anything written by Arundhati Roy.
(I want to add that I hope James A Levine will continue writing. I think that, with time, he will produce novels that can live up to their concept and fulfill the promise of their beginning. This, a first novel, may not do it but the potential is absolutely there.)
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language by Kathy Russell Rich is yet another memoir, this one a sort of “year in the life” of a woman who has survived breast cancer only to find herself without a steady job and unsure what to do next. Her decision to learn Hindi by moving to India for an opportunity to immerse herself in the language and the culture. However, because of Rich’s background as an editor and writer, her memoir doesn’t begin and end with her personal experience. She sprinkles her story with interviews she’s done with linguists and neurologists to understand the process by which people learn a primary and secondary language, how these experiences differ, and even some of the history of India along the way. In other words, this memoir has the same layering that some of the other memoirs I’ve been reading lately have. As I was reading, I often stopped to share passages with my son Marc who is bilingual. Research she described echoed experiences we’d had in our lives. When she referenced Chomsky, I found myself groaning in despair, once again facing the dreaded name from my bygone university days. I also caught myself smiling at the author’s humor (although the back of the book’s proclamation of “hilarious” hyperbolic). The book is lacking in emotional depth, however, and certain details are glossed over. I suspect that Rich didn’t want to sink into sharing details that were potentially shaming to herself or others but by alluding to them in even a slight way the careful reader is forced to make inferences that are likely more salacious than they might have been had she been more candid. I don’t know if she wants her reader to make inferences or she was hoping the reader would not notice. Either way, that part of the memoir is mostly disappointing. Technically, however, this memoir is superior to many. At the beginning she explains how the concept of time in India is very different, drawing on examples tucked within the nuances of the Hindi language itself. By the second part of the memoir this linear perception of time begins to infuse the memoir itself as Rich weaves in and out of time in a manner that one rarely sees in memoirs but often finds in contemporary literary novels. She alludes to events as past that have not yet been shared with the reader and then ripples back and then back again until she hones in on the one moment mentioned before returning to the more linear memoir timeline. It is a brilliant effect, impressively handled by a writer who has proven her mettle not only as a survivor and a scholar but as a person of sympathy. Had there been more emotional and less academic depth, I might have even said “empathy” but that would have been less alliterative anyway so who cares?
Monday, June 01, 2009
Yesterday Rob got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and stubbed his toe. By the end of the day, it was turning purple which means he broke it. Yesterday morning, before I knew about the toe incident, I stubbed my toe as well. It hurt a lot but I did not break it. Oddly, we both stubbed the same toe. I think I’m realizing that there is such a thing as too much empathy.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
May started off with the same peculiar weather movements that defined most of April. By the third week I was so sick that I literally stayed in bed one day, unable to tolerate any movement. When I emerged from my bed I only felt slightly better but frustrated beyond reason because I had lost so many more days to being sick than I had of enjoying good health. Week One: More rain than not. And wind. Rob and I celebrate our ninth dating anniversary. Week Two: Rob’s health takes a front seat. Doctors and tests and still no answers even as I write this but there are more appointments and tests on the horizon. Oh joy. Week Three: Still raining and windy and Rob’s grandmother dies. There is a great deal of sadness and juggling of affairs to get him to Kentucky for the funeral. Week Four: Rob goes to the funeral without me because I am expecting company and need to do things around the house. And we end the month with good food, good wine, and great company. It doesn’t take much observation to see that the month was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me and mine. We made it through, had an epiphany, and reminded ourselves often to just breathe. Mother’s Day came and went without family but a week later we tried to celebrate. Unfortunately, Erin’s car started acting funny and that kept Joe from joining the festivities. Oh well. Two out of three ain’t bad and Joe and Erin are doing their best to get things together so they can visit. An amusing quote: There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. – Douglas Adams Books Read The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin Falconer on the Edge by Rachel Dickinson In Search of Stones by M Scott Peck Less by Marc Lesser Seeking the Spirit of the Book of Change by Master Zhongxian Wu The Divine Matrix by Gregg Braden Chakra Meditation by Swami Saradananda The Chakra Energy Plan by Anna Selby Lord of the Rings and Philosophy ed by Eric Branson Everlasting by Iris Johansen Of the books I read this month, I would have to say that Staceyann Chin’s memoir is such a delightful surprise, a book that reads more like a novel than many memoirs out there and allows itself to end naturally, that it is one of those very rare books I would happily and easily recommend to anyone and everyone. I hope that it has tremendous success and that the publishers will want her to write a second memoir that picks up where the first leaves off. I very much want to continue enjoying Chin’s journey through her words. Movies Seen for the First Time Must Love Dogs – It is a rare even when I say that a chick flick made me laugh. Predictable but cute in a mediocre way. The Virgin Suicides – First time I’ve ever liked Kirsten Dunst in a movie. I really should read the book. Scream – I’d never seen it and I was too sick to do much else but waste some time watching television. It worked. I definitely wasted time. 1408 – I love John Cusack. I don’t love this movie. I really do not love Stephen King. The ending almost made me hate him. Maybe next time . . . Factory Girl – I hadn’t heard about this movie before and I don’t know why. Very interesting. Not sure how much of it is melodramatic but assuming most of it is true, a brutal reality it is. Double Indemnity – Classic noire directed by Billy Wilder. Predictable but still fun to watch. A Child is Waiting – A strange movie. Sentimental. Not brilliant. I watched it mostly because I am a die hard Judy Garland fan and hadn’t seen it before. In Cold Blood – Interesting movie but not one that I would recommend. More interesting for what inspired the movie than the film itself. Terminator 3 – The truth is, I fell asleep before the climax so if anyone reading this can tell me how it ends, I would greatly appreciate it. There’s no way I’m watching it a second time. Cars -- Cute movie. I don't know if I would want to own it if I didn't have little children. And I don't. So I guess I don't. Besides, I have plenty of animated films I like, even without children. The Nanny Diaries – Amusing little movie. Better than Must Love Dogs but maybe that’s because it takes place in NYC and I enjoy seeing the museums and such. Batman Begins – I enjoyed this much more than I would have anticipated but not as much as I did The Dark Knight. My son says there will be another movie in the series. Too bad. It’d be nice if Hollywood would just let things end on a high note. Television Shows Dexter Season Three was available “on demand,” minus two episodes of the season. Rob actually turned me onto the show, although it doesn’t sound like one I would like since the protagonist is a serial killer. But the writing is so good, the characters so clearly defined and manifested, and the acting superlative my only complaint is that we missed the second season. You see, Rob liked the show and watched it online. I didn’t because, at the time, I was not well and sitting up at a computer was beyond my limits. Then the writer’s strike complicated television programming and CBS turned to their sister station, Showtime, for something to air. I had hoped they would choose The Tudors, naturally, but they didn’t. Instead, they showed the first season of Dexter and I was hooked. Even with the highly edited, sanitized version of the show, I found the characters compelling and intriguing. Everyone from Dexter to his sister to their coworkers. I found myself liking their quirks, of which there are many, frustrated by their flaws, and wanting to know what would happen next. We haven’t seen season two; CBS did not see fit to air it, probably hoping that those audience members who loved the first season would be forced to a) subscribe to Showtime or b) buy the season on dvd. Rob probably wouldn’t mind owning season two, given that he has the first season on dvd. And he has a birthday coming up in June. All in all, even having missed season three and knowing that season one stayed true to the novel which inspired the show while the following seasons departed from the sequels to the novel, I am surprised by how very much I like this show and how eager I am to see season two and find out what happens in the upcoming season four. Lucky for me, Showtime is re-airing all of the previous seasons before they air season four. Maybe our Showtime subscription will last long enough for us to see the whole thing. If not, then we'll wait for the dvds and another birthday.
Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All edited by Eric Bronson is one of the many (now over thirty strong and growing!) Popular Culture and Philosophy books. I have enjoyed most of the books more than not enjoyed them. Because each is a collection of essays and some essays are simply better than others, the quality of each volume is contingent upon the contributors. I would say that I really enjoyed about one third of the essays, liked but didn’t necessarily love other essays, and didn’t like a few others. Over all, I liked more than I disliked. Some of the essays are too simplistic, pandering to a low-denominator expectation that doesn’t, in my opinion, make sense. Few people who would choose to read this book would not have indulged in immersing themselves in reading Tolkien’s brilliant series and, given the quality of his writing, the essay editor should have assumed a certain level of commitment and intelligence in the reader. It made me wonder if this volume was geared more to the movie watcher than it was to the Ringer who actually reads. However, given that the essays reference the books more than the movies, it would seem that the contributors were assuming that the reader would also have read the novels. This collection reminded me of all the reasons why I love reading and rereading The Lord of the Rings. It also made me want to watch the movies again. And, while I definitely enjoy reading literature from different philosophical perspectives and enjoy reading essays that do just this, I didn’t take away as much from reading these essays as I did from reading Tokien’s writing for myself. Nevertheless, if this book will inspire someone who hasn’t read The Lord of the Rings then that is wonderful. I hope that anyone who has only tasted the movies will come to someday savor the novels.