10 days till summer! it’s too late now to plant a lilac bush so you might as well just get some books and lie down beneath a ceiling fan.
Our thanks to RI fictionista and hybrid writer Mary-Kim Arnold for these latest reading recs!
Plainwater, Essays and Poetry by Anne Carson
The “short talks” in this book are dazzling and surprising and strange and haunting. From On Orchids: “We live by tunneling for we are people buried alive. To me, the tunnels you make will seem strangely aimless, uprooted orchids. But the fragrance is undying.” And later, On Hedonism: “Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris, I long to wrap my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead-calm sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls.”
In “Kinds of Water: An Essay on the Road to Compostela,” Carson traces her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It is a beautiful, rich meditation on faith, language, love, and our pursuit of knowledge – of ourselves, of others. “You reach out your hand for bread and grasp a stone. You touch stone, you feel sweat running down your body. Sweat running, day going black, it is a moment that does not move. How I did waste and exhaust my heart.”
And in “Just for the Thrill: An Essay on the Difference Between Women and Men,” she explores the end of love charting the map of her travels with a man who is an anthropologist of China. Interweaving Chinese history, the sites they visit, and the unraveling of their love, Carson is relentless in the rigor with which she interrogates both the limits of love and of language: “It is easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together. Be careful of this storyteller’s tendency to replace precise separate lines with fast daubs of ink. I know how to fool your mind so that your eye accepts what it did not see. A curtain of wash is not a desert. Where ink bleeds into paper is not an act of love, and yet it is. See.”
This slim volume is a meditation on the life and work of Joseph Cornell. It cannot be called criticism so much as a literary companion to approaching Cornell’s work, weaving biography, criticism, observations, and excerpts from Cornell’s own notebooks. The short fragments often read like poetry, and the overall effect is evocative of Cornell’s enchanting and mysterious boxes. At turns odd, dramatic, and contemplative, it is like walking through a dream with Simic as guide.
In his preface, he begins: “I have a dream in which Joseph Cornell and I pass each other on the street.” And the book unfolds as the dream does. Here is a fragment called Secret Toy:
“You make unknown the child’s sleeping face, his half-open eyes and mouth.
Everything in his world is a secret, and the games are still the game of love, the game of hide-and-seek, and the chilly game of solitude.
In a secret room in a secret house his secret toy sits listening to its own stillness.
Crows fly over that city. The ghosts of his and our dreams come together at night like window dressers and their mannequins on a street of dark, abandoned buildings and white clouds.”
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
William G. and Neaera H. wander into each other’s lives and in so doing, they set in motion a series of events that will change them. They are lonely and isolated. “Sundays are dangerous,” William G. says, “the quiet waits in ambush.”
Their meeting and the sudden sense of purpose they discover – in setting sea turtles free from the London Zoo – enlivens them. They find new affirmation in this project and they return to their lives with restored vigor and hope from this small, but important act of shared humanity. Neaera H. says: “I was waiting for the self inside me to come forward to the boundaries from which it had long ago withdrawn. Life would be less quiet and more dangerous, life is risky on the borders.”
The story is told in short sections, alternating between the two voices. It is engrossing from the opening lines, spoken by William H.: “I don’t want to go to the zoo anymore. The other night, I dreamt of an octopus. He was dark green, almost black, dark tentacles undulating in brown water.”
Turtle Diary is being re-released by New York Review Books on June 11, 2013 with a new introductory essay by the fabulous Ed Park: http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/turtle-diary/