Friday, May 26, 2006

Summer Reading

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for two things (well, many more things, but only two are pertinent to what I'm about to talk about): tragedy and romance. My favorite book of all time, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, which I've read more times than I could count on my fingers, is steeped in both, and because the tragic heroine Edna is known as "the Creole Madame Bovary" I thought I'd read Madame Bovary. Nice summer reading material, you know, the kind that helps me sleep easy at night.

At first I couldn't get into it--while the writing has a concise beauty, the third-person voice seemed too distant from the characters. I'm halfway through now, though, and completely absorbed. Somewhere a few pages back, there was some transformation where I subconsciously moved from being completely apathetic to Emma Bovary to being completely sympathetic to her every mood and emotion.

I thought I'd include some quotes that particularly resonated with me:

"From the other side of the fireplace a fair-haired man was silently watching her. This was Monseiur Leon Dupuis, the second of the Lion d'Or's regular diners. Finding Yonville very dull, he dined as late as possible, in the hope that some traveler might turn up at the inn with whom he could have an evening's conversation."

This is me to a T. I go out for dinner several nights a week by myself, hoping to find someone to talk to. I spend so much time working with the same few people that I'm practically starved for conversation. Tonight I went to my favorite local place, Paul's Homewood Cafe, for dinner, with the exact same hopes as Leon. I arrived after 9, and was one of only two parties dining at the time. Usually when I go to Paul's hoping for conversation or, for that matter, a quiet night to my own thoughts, I am met with a well-meaning but irritating fellow diner who wants to talk to me about their fishing boat or how they're putting new wood floors in their "historic" home and what I know about horses (you know, every girl from Kentucky was practically raised on a horse--something I actually didn't realize until I moved to Annapolis, silly me!). Tonight, however, I was the only person eating at the counter and I had a nice chat with the owner, Chris, and some really delicious food, and not one person pestered me the entire time. It was wonderful.

" 'There's nothing I love as much as sunsets," she said. 'But my favorite place for them is the seashore.'
'I adore the sea,' said Monsieur Leon.
'Don't you have the feeling,' asked Madame Bovary, that something happens to free your spirit in the presence of all that vastness? It raises up my soul to look at it, somehow. It makes me think of the infinite, and all kinds of wonderful things.' "

What a good way to describe the feeling the sea gives me--it frees my spirit. I can look at the ocean and understand something about the world, and something about myself, that I can't put into words in any other way. That something is very personal to me and exists not in my mind but somewhere in my soul, which is why I can't put it into words. I'm a beach bum at heart, a parrothead, and my dream since high school has been to move to a sleepy fishing town in Florida or the Outer Banks and be a waitress at a local seafood place, talking to people and writing stories. Maybe I'll still do that one day.

"Surprised by a sweetness that was new to them, it didn't occur to them to tell each other how they felt or to wonder why. Future joys are like tropic shores: out into the immensity that lies before them they waft their native softness, a fragrant breeze that drugs the traveler into drowsiness and makes him careless of what awaits him on the horizon beyond his view."

I have no commentary on this passage, other than just to emphasize how beautiful that whole idea is. I've read it several times and am still trying to grasp exactly what it means, but the language, even in translation, is so beautiful.

I am definitely not allowed to buy any more books until I read the ones I've already bought. Not including several volumes of short stories, my summer reading list is as follows (and, sucker for award winners that I am, I've noted awards where applicable):

J.M Coetze - Elizabeth Costello (winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)
Sarah Erdman - Nine Hills to Nambonkaha (I'm expecting this memoir to make me want to be a missionary; Mom, steal it if you don't want me moving to Africa)
Jim Fergus - The Wild Girl (A Southwest Books of the Year Top Pick of 2005, Favorite Book of 2005 by the Rocky Mountain News)
Carlos Fuentes - Inez
Donna Gershten - Kissing the Virgin's Mouth (winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction)
Shirley Hazzard - The Great Fire (National Book Award Winner)
Penelope Lively - The Photograph (Today's Book Club...nice distinction, eh? It's not the Nobel Prize, but it means something!)
James Michener - Chesapeake
Zadie Smith - The Autograph Man
Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray


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