I am not sure why I had this book in my reading list. I must have read a review somewhere and added it without much thought. Then, I sometimes feel II am not sure why I had this book in my reading list. I must have read a review somewhere and added it without much thought. Then, I sometimes feel I should rest from fiction and should include the odd non-fiction book in my reading – like sorbet to cleanse the palate.
So I didn't know what to expect from these essays. I guess I anticipated something in the lines of Joan Didion or Anna Quindlen, essays grounded in journalism and social critique. But Rebecca Solnit delivered something new. It is not that Didion and Quindlen don’t add a very personal perspective and expand their subjects into the philosophical sphere, they do. Yet Rebecca Solnit brings a metaphysical quality to her essays that I have not encountered before.
Other reviewers mention the rambling characteristics of her writing. Some liked and some disliked it, but it worked for me. I felt at times led through a maze of thoughts and images without a true notion of the destination, but the whole path was interesting, full of stories and questionings, painted with dabs of erudition and sensitivity, and most definitely worth of the journey.
I also wanted to mention an instant of serendipity while I was reading it. I just happened to browse a list of “best fiction of 2014” where it mentioned The Moor's Account, a book about the saga of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, which I never heard of before but decided I should try and read it (full confession, it was the name “Cabeza de Vaca” or “Cow’s Head” that I found the most intriguing). Then, not even a couple of hours after I added it to my to read list, I read about Cabeza de Vaca in one of Solnit’s essays. Some will consider it not much more than coincidence, and problably it is, but I am nevertheless surprised enough when these coincidences happen to question if they carry a bigger meaning. If life and books are leading me somewhere…
I am sorry for the diversion, but somehow I felt it reflected the reading experience of reading Rebecca Solnit’s essays: This feeling of being lead along to some greater meaning, even if it is a bit beyond my reach. ...more
DISCLAIMER: I GOT THIS BOOK FROM A GIVEAWAY HERE ON GOODREADS.
It has taken me a long time to get around reading this book. I think that the subject maDISCLAIMER: I GOT THIS BOOK FROM A GIVEAWAY HERE ON GOODREADS.
It has taken me a long time to get around reading this book. I think that the subject matter scared me a bit. But, as I was given it, I felt that I owed the authors and publishers a review, and I finally mastered the courage to tackle it.
I actually found the writing excellent. There is a cadence to the story, which easily draws the reader into it. The story flows easily, and quite early on I was intrigued by this girl from Sylvan Lake, AB with a dream of travelling and seeing exotic places.
If naivety and irresponsibility took Amanda Lindhout to Somalia in a bid for a break-through news-story, in the telling of her kidnapping and all the suffering that followed, I came to admire her strength and naturalness. I know that she has received a lot of criticism for taking the trip in the first place, and I too wished that she had been more careful or discerning. But at the end we are all too naïve of the happenings in so many parts of this Earth.
Of course I rather none of this story had happened, from the point when she and her brother scavenged garbage bins for bottles that she could sell and then buy old copies of National Geographic. But maybe this is where her resourcefulness was born.
“...I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they“...I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
I loved these essays. I could go on quoting Didion on and on, there are just too many great passages, great insights from her.
The truth is that I am full of envy. I envy Joan Didion’s facility with words. In a vernacular that is erudite without being stuffy, poetic without being overly romantic, extremely precise and sharp, she distill her thoughts skilfully.
I actually listen to it in audio format, and I know I am going to listen to one or another essay when I need something short to amuse me. But I am also going to buy the book because I want to highlight some passages, and because I want to give my own cadence to her voice. Diane Keaton narrated the version I listened and I did enjoy her voice. She sounded youthful, and made Didion’s monologues less cultured or intellectual than I perceive Didion to be. Which, surprisingly, I felt worked well. It gave Didion’s thoughts a new layer, more accessible and amicable.
This collection is said to capture the essence of 1960’s America, and I think it does. We have John Wayne, Joan Baez, San Francisco and hippies… yet, the personal essays will stay with me longer: self-respect, immorality and the power of going home are obviously more material to me than historical commentary on America.
I don’t know what I will read next, because it will be such a letdown after this book. I feel I am coming down from a high, and right now all I wanted is more of Didion’s words. Like a junkie I may just start from the beginning again. Someone please help me!
I hate when life interferes with my reading, and interfering is what it did of lately. Eliza Fay deserved better of me than putting this book down forI hate when life interferes with my reading, and interfering is what it did of lately. Eliza Fay deserved better of me than putting this book down for days at time, just to return to it without great emotional commitment. So, be aware that my impression of this collection of letters was maybe impaired by my own lack of time to devout to it. But, as much as I was impressed by Mrs. Fay strength of character, and the challenges that she faced to reach India, I wanted more of her person in it.
I too have wrote letters that I knew were going to be read by many in my family, and I recognize the “holding back” that it requires, as compared to a letter written to a close friend that we are certain will not share our deep feelings with others.
Anyway, I am still glad I read it, and I would still recommend it to anyone curious of the time period. Just keep in mind that Eliza Fay describes more of the scenery than of her heart. ...more
Last night I sat down with a glass of wine and Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, by the poet Mark Doty. I read it in one go and a second glass of winLast night I sat down with a glass of wine and Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, by the poet Mark Doty. I read it in one go and a second glass of wine. I really don’t have words to describe the experience of reading it. Any attempt to express it seems shallow after Doty’s beautifully crafted prose. I will only say that it has been a long time since I read a book that spoke so deeply to me, but this phrase also seems shallow and clichéd. Yet, speak to me it did.
This book defies genre, and my appreciation of it maybe comes from the fact that I had no expectations about it. Reading other reviewers it seems to me that those mostly disappointed by it were the readers that tried to peg it to a genre, be it art review, memoir or poetry. And if they were looking for a specific theme they had the right to feel disappointed, because it is all of these - art review, memoir and poetry – and none of it.
Oh, I envy Mark Doty though. How can he name so effortless – as it seems - the experiences of my heart. I too have...
...fallen in love with a painting. (...) have allowed myself to be pulled into its sphere by casual attraction deepening to something more compelling. I have felt the energy and life of the painting’s will; I have been held there, instructed.
Often I shy away from describing my experience of art, as I don’t have the academic knowledge or vocabulary to do it, and speaking of art as it tugs my heart, I tend to be melodramatic and incoherent. Then Mark Doty comes along and says it for me, so beautifully, so tenderly.
But he also speaks of life, death and grieving. Maybe this is a book about grieving more than anything else. And on grief he again puts words to feelings I have not been able to vocalize:
Not the grief vanishes – far from it – but that it begins in time to coexist with pleasure; sorrow sits right beside the discovery of what is to be cherished in experience. Just when you think you are done.
It felt surprising too that in a book so small – 70 pages – I relate so close to two of Doty’s experiences. I too love to browse through state sales and auctions. In my part of the world the state auctions are mainly of farm machinery and mechanical tools, but I have found small treasures here and there. White porcelain napkin holders in the shape of chubby chickens, tucked away in a sad box of Tupperware. Medalta pottery, cracked and beautiful in its utility. A wooden horse, its original tail replaced by a rough cord, a survivor of many children’s play. A pocket size New Testament encased in metal covers to protect the heart of a loved one from a bullet on WWI.
These excursions into people’s past, their day-to-day, now relegated to the junk pile. I always felt there was a lesson here, and again I never was able to vocalize it, to name it.
Then, there is Mark Doty’s trip to Amsterdam on his 45th birthday. I was in Amsterdam this last September, celebrating not mine but one of my sister’s 45th birthday. We are three sisters spread very evenly around the globe. I live in the middle of Canada, the birthday girl lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the baby of the family lives in Hong Kong, China. Amsterdam of all places on Earth seemed to be the epicentre of our geographical distances.
I wish that I could say that, like Mark Doty, that a visit to the Rijksmuseum was the highlight of our trip, but actually we never made it there. As it is often the case with sisters, we have very different approaches to life, art and travel, and this trip, as special as it was, was really a great exercise on compromises. I forgo the Rijksmuseum for the Van Gogh Museum and an Antiquity Art Show on Alexander the Great at the Amsterdam’s Hermitage Museum.
My experiences at both Museums felt short of Doty’s experience at the Rijksmuseum, and short of my own visits to other art museums in previous years. I found the Van Gogh collection and museum to be too small for the amount of visitors. It was crowed and hot in there. Too many people elbowing each other for a view of the masterpieces made it impossible for me to achieve an emotional connection to the paintings. Yes, rationally I admired then, but I never experience, as Mark Doty would say, being pulled into it, held there and instructed by it. How sorry I feel to say it even, as Van Gogh’s works, above most, generally provoke and emotional connection and response from me.
As for the show at the Hermitage, it was an historical show. Not that the pieces were not artistic, but their value was in the historical exposition of Alexander’s life and influence at his time. An experience that was much more rational than emotional for me.
Yet, I relate to what Doty says on having his senses sharpened by this trip to Amsterdam, and by the viewing of a painting, or art object. And I related to what I think is his bigger message on this book, of how the essence of life impregnates the objects around us. How a chipped china plate carries the memories of other times, other people, and how its intrinsic beauty can affect us and our own lives.
If the museums I visited in Amsterdam did not provoke this, the house of Anne Frank certainly did. Had I been travelling by myself, the line up of people waiting outside would have driven me away. I also suffer from mild claustrophobia, and felt anxious in anticipation of the small spaces that the Franks had to live in. But again, this was a trip of compromises, and one of my sisters felt strongly about visiting it, so we went.
The Frank’s hiding place was actually bigger than I had imagined, and what really disturbed me was its emptiness. As per requested by Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, all furniture has been removed. The walls still have the collages the girls did from pictures in magazines that they cut and pasted on a few walls. An open widow in the attic, which they would open from time to time, framed the autumn colours of the trees on the street.
But it was in the absence of personal objects that their suffering was more poignant. The nothingness of life exposed almost brutally. Who were those people? Where are the chairs were they sat to eat and talk? The plates and cutlery? Where are the echoes of their voices, laughter and cries if nothing of their surroundings, the objects of their daily lives, were also taken from us.
Could a painting of the trees outside replace for the Franks that open window? No, I don’t think so. As I see it, art does not replace life. But a painting of the view of that widow could let us glimpse into their existence. And sometimes I painting, an installation, and sculpture do just that. It allows us to share an awareness beyond past and future, and we are faced with an essence of feelings and life.
Would I be betraying their pain if I said I felt as if I was viewing an artistic installation while visiting the actual rooms where the Franks hided? I felt detached from the particular individuals that lived and suffered in there, but was embraced by all the suffering represented in the void of this space; the vacuum of their deaths and the deaths of many others in the same time period.
But, here I am again trying to say something of my experience of art and becoming melodramatic... So I better stop right now. Go read the book. Mark Doty says it with so much more poetry and coherence than I could ever do it. ...more
This book was waiting for me under the Christmas tree 2 weeks ago. I didn’t know then, but it was my best gift. I love everything about it: Fermor’s sThis book was waiting for me under the Christmas tree 2 weeks ago. I didn’t know then, but it was my best gift. I love everything about it: Fermor’s scholarly prose and rich vocabulary; the history lessons; the places he visited; his take on art; etc, etc...
I even love the preface he wrote – as entertaining as the book itself – and the front page on the NYRB edition, from the painting “Hunters in the Snow” by Brueghel.
But, what would not be there to love about the account of a trip thorough Europe in 1933, made by the author when he was 18 years old and decided to walk to Constantinople? That he was a premature hippie, wandering with a backpack and little money, and acquaintances in the right places (counts and scholars) only adds to it all.
A note should be made though, that this book was not written until 30 years later. So, it is the account of a youthful inquisitive mind as told by the scholarly and experienced writer Fermor became later. Also, this book only contains the first third of the journey.
But, there is a sequel, and I am heading out to buy it. ...more
I found this book at a discount bin, and for the price decided to give it a try. I have been drawn to essays and memoirs lately. I was actually surpriI found this book at a discount bin, and for the price decided to give it a try. I have been drawn to essays and memoirs lately. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it, although I have to say that I don’t think it is a book to be read from cover to cover. I browsed and read parts of it over the past month, and there are probably parts I never got around to reading, and pieces I reread just for the pleasure of the language. I loved his insights and recollections of growing up in the Jewish area of Montreal, and I think I appreciated his writing here better than when I read some of his fiction. I may even go back to reread his fiction. After so many years I may have a different appreciation of it. ...more
This is quite a rare occurrence, but I liked the movie better!
Jon Krakauer does a great job. I like his writing. He mixes journalism with personal stThis is quite a rare occurrence, but I liked the movie better!
Jon Krakauer does a great job. I like his writing. He mixes journalism with personal stories in the right dose, and I absolute loved the literary entries to each chapter. But I did see the movie first and it had such an emotional edge, I felt the book paled in comparison. Maybe the movie did a better job of portraying Chris McCandless/Alex Supertramp as a anti-hero, while the book go to such an extent on trying to justify him that it end up seeding doubts about McCandless’ persona in the reader’s mind. Quite a moving story anyway you look at it.
I seldom read non-fiction, but this was a book club choice and I am very glad I read it. John Vaillant's prose is rich and quite poetic at times. ButI seldom read non-fiction, but this was a book club choice and I am very glad I read it. John Vaillant's prose is rich and quite poetic at times. But the engrossing writing does not overshadow the tale Vaillant set himself to tell. The main thread of the book is the story of how a centuries old golden spruce, that was sacred to the Haida, was cut down by Grant Hadwin, a logger gone environmentalist gone mad. In a more in-depth journalistic style and skillfully researched, Vaillant also tells us the historical factors behind the logging industry in the West Coast, and the difficult relationship between loggers and the indigenous people of the area. This is a multi-layered book, partially mystery, partially historical account, definitely haunting in the environmental questions it poses. ...more