So much has been said -- is being said -- about The Goldfinch that I'm wary of echoing the accolades. Not that I disagree. On the contrary: for all th...moreSo much has been said -- is being said -- about The Goldfinch that I'm wary of echoing the accolades. Not that I disagree. On the contrary: for all the glowing reviews and my own elevated expectations The Goldfinch was still far better than I could have expected or hoped. I will be reading this again.(less)
The latest in my reading series "Books With Titles That Get Me Funny Looks On The Bus" -- all part of an ongoing project to keep my own special brand...moreThe latest in my reading series "Books With Titles That Get Me Funny Looks On The Bus" -- all part of an ongoing project to keep my own special brand of social awkwardness thriving.
Cheeky title aside, this is an interesting look at the various ways in which sexuality informs (and warps) our lives. In particular, it is geared towards readers in committed relationships struggling with the mundane, powerful realities of everyday life that can make trying to remain a sexual being with the person you love so difficult. To quote: "To fall in love with another is to bless him or her with an idea of who he or she should be in our eyes; it is to attempt to incarnate perfection across a limitless range of activities (how to educate the children and what sort of house to buy) to the lowest (where the sofa should go and how to spend Tuesday evening). In love we are therefore never far from the possibility of a painful or irritating betrayal of one of our ideals. Once we are involved in a relationship, there is no longer any such thing as a minor detail."
Botton's strident call for an outright ban of pornography is compelling but will make anyone opposed to censorship deeply uncomfortable. More interesting (and, perhaps, feasible) is his suggestion that we might, like Christian artists during the Renaissance who used sexuality in their paintings and sculptures to make lofty principles more appealing, start creating a new kind of pornography with artistic merit. Throughout the book Botton argues that our society has tried to repress and ignore the nature of sexuality, ensuring the kind of frustrations that come with unrealistic expectations.
At the core of this book is the basic idea that our sexual natures are, more often than not, a source of discomfort, pain, awkwardness, loneliness, disappointment, failure, etc. The list of miseries is long and will be familiar to anyone. Still, sex and our need for it are here to stay. “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone," the philosopher Pascal famously wrote. Sex is probably the main reason for this. But, as Botton writes in his conclusion, "sex gets us out of the house and out of ourselves." For while sex may be at the root of a great deal of pain and wasted time/energy, it is also the heart of our greatest pleasures -- not only (or even primarily) the act itself, but all the wonders we have created in our efforts to get some. (less)
Sometimes it feels like I've been reading too much for too many years. All through high school and into college, I could engage with the story, the ch...moreSometimes it feels like I've been reading too much for too many years. All through high school and into college, I could engage with the story, the characters, the world of a book on a level I can't seem to achieve anymore. That doesn't happen much these days. I appreciate books, even love them, but I do so with the jaded distance of a museum curator approaching a painting.
As a result, I've become less interested over time in what I think of as the craft of transparency: books that are so impeccably executed that you forget you're reading a book. Not that I've abandoned (or will ever completely abandon) this kind of book (I recently read Pride & Prejudice for the fifth or sixth time and loved it) but as transparent, smooth, seamless writing becomes more and more prevalent, it interests me less and less. I've been thinking on this subject a lot lately and could easily spend a few thousand words trying to work through a variety of ideas but here I'm only interested in explaining why I loved Orlando as much as I did . . .
Freewheeling and wacky may not be words we usually use to describe Woolf's work but I think they apply to Orlando. Not only is the story deliciously odd (an apparently immortal aristocrat with poetic ambitions who changes gender about a third of the way through the story) but Woolf's writing employs tricks and devices from just about every literary era. She mocks the length of her own sentences, laments the lack of action taken by her main character, crafts puckish aphorisms, digresses on various topics . . . It's a treat and a joy and I found myself savoring many of its pages over and over again. At one point I actually laughed out loud in the middle of a particularly audacious page before closing the book for a few moments so I could shake my head and exclaim, "What the fuck?" I was so awestruck, I literally had tears in my eyes for a few seconds. I like it when a book is so damned good that I have to stop reading it for awhile.
This is a mischievous novel and -- it can't be said enough -- a lot of fun to read. I've been meaning to read it ever since I first watched the Sally Potter adaptation starring Tilda Swinton twenty-some years ago. I've watched the film many times (it's a personal favorite), always feeling guilty that I still hadn't read the book. Now I'm actually glad I waited as long as I did since it reminded me that there are still plenty of surprises to be found between the covers of a book.
**** Some favorite quotations:
"The poet's then in the highest office of all . . . His words reach where others fall short. A silly song of Shakespeare's has done more for the poor and the wicked than all the preachers and philanthropists of the world." (173)
"Candid by nature, and averse to all kinds of equivocation, to tell lies bored her. It seemed to her a roundabout way of going to work." (156)
"Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us . . . Thus there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking." (188)
"For if it is rash to walk into a lion's den unarmed, rash to navigate the Atlantic in a rowing boat, rash to stand on one foot on the top of St Paul's, it is still more rash to go home alone with a poet." (203)
"A man who can destroy illusions is both beast and flood. Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth . . . The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet. By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. 'Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life." (203)
"We write, not with our fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver." (243)
"In fact, though their acquaintance had been so short, they had guessed, as always happens between lovers, everything of any importance about each other in two seconds at the utmost, and it now remained only to fill in such unimportant details as what they were called; where they lived; and whether they were beggars or people of substance." (251)
"She was married, true: but if one's husband was always sailing round Cape Horn, was it marriage? If one liked him, was it marriage? If one liked other people, was it marriage? And finally, if one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage? She had her doubts." (264)
"Life, it has been agreed by everyone whose opinion is worth consulting, is the only fit subject for novelist or biographer; life, the same authorities have decided, has nothing whatever to do with sitting still in a chair and thinking." (267)
"For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, for more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if its merely accounts for six or seven selves whereas a person may well have as many thousand." (309)(less)