Friday, August 27, 2004

A Lifetime of Books

Last weekend I had the rare opportunity of spending a day with a dear friend and former college roommate. Our friendship spans three decades and inter-connections of geography, family, and work. After a cup of coffee on the front porch while catching up on 6 months’ worth of news—children, spouses, aging parents—our conversation turned, as it always does, to books. “Have you read this? My brother had a copy at the beach.” Later, we slid into her car for a trip to the bookstore as easily as we did when we were roommates.
Women and shopping—hmm—an entire sociological study could be done here, but let me merely say that there was a real camaraderie in our browsing the new book aisles—the easy, quiet standing near each other; the sensual delights of glossy book jackets and crisp pages; the anticipation of new stories waiting to be read; the hushed girlfriend giggles and raised eyebrows over racy covers and titles with double entendres. It was a lovely, shared time that seemed to send ripples to and fro through the years we have known each other. The books we have shared can be metaphors for our lives. They can be touchstones for us; quick ways of communicating complicated thoughts in lives separated by miles and families and work, but lives still emotionally close despite the passing of years. These books and the power of their stories are one more bond between us. I am reminded of an old Simon and Garfunkle song, my friend and I are “old friends, like bookends.”
The following are a few books that we have shared this summer. I hope that you might share these, or your own favorites, with a very dear friend as well.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This first novel was written by a man who has worked with autistic adults. Told by a savant, a high functioning autistic teen narrator, this is a wonderful coming of age story. The effect is dazzling: a comedy, a tearjerker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Every Thursday morning a bold teacher secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students into the security of her home in Tehran. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids around them, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. This is an extraordinary memoir that explores the resilience and liberating power of literature.
An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland by Michael Dirda. This book is a moving, often funny, story of a young reader. “All that kid wants to do is stick his nose in a book,” complains the author’s steelworker father on the book’s jacket. Like Reading Lolita in Tehran, this volume shows how reading and books (in this case comics and adventure stories, poetry and Proust, Hamlet, Walden and even Fanny Hill) can change your life. Depicting Lorain, Ohio in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Dirda remembers Slavic wedding feasts, catechism, summer jobs in the mill, and a canary-yellow Mustang.
Birthday gifts from my roommate this summer also included three of her favorites, an intimate sharing of a true soul sister.
Summer by Edith Wharton-- a novel that breaks the many conventions of women's romantic love stories.
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman—a look
at the art of Mary Cassatt via her invalid sister Lydia.
Forever Fifty by Judith Viorst—funny verse and short poems. Now why would she have sent me that?

And finally, here are a few more new titles that worth reading:

The Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts
The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg
A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott
Indigo by Alice Hoffman
What to Keep by Rachel Cline
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson

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"Color is the real substance for me, the real underlying thing which drawing and line are not."
--Sam Francis

"The great man is one who never loses his child's heart."
-- Philosopher Mencius

"We wear our attitudes in our bodies."
-- Patti Davis

Colour embodies an enormous though unexplored power which can effect the entire human body as physical organism.

Colour is a means of exercising direct influence upon the soul.
--V. Kandinsky
I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way.. things I had no words for.
Georgia O'Keeffe

Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else.
J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Faith is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E. L. Doctorow

Somebody once said that people become artists
because they have a certain kind of energy to release, and that rings true to me.
--Dale Chihuly