Monday, January 30, 2012

The Hunger Games

Alison and I have a book-buying problem. We simultaneously lecture ourselves and encourage each other on our book-buying on a weekly basis (usually on lazy Sundays when we find ourselves wandering to Greenlight or BookCourt, or god forbid, separately at that airport bookstore at LaGuardia.)

"Ughghhgh I want this but I have so many books to read at home."
"I know, but it's a good beach read and since you're going to Florida with your mom..."
"Totally, right?"
"Yeah, get it. Plus, you're supporting your local neighborhood book dealer."
"I know but I do have that stack of books at home. I suck."
"I know, me too. We both suck."
"Should we get some wine?"
"Yeah, totally."
"K, I'm going to first buy this book though."

Every weekend! Granted, it's not the worst problem to have. We both love reading. We read lots of books, all the time. But for this reason we can't quite keep up. I have a phenomenal stack of books sitting next to my bed right now, waiting for my attention. Henry VII is waiting patiently for me to finish Everything Matters!. So is The Marriage Plot, right there next to The Paris Wife about Mrs. Hemingway herself. I'm trying!, I shout at them as I browse the windows at Book Court on my way home from work.

My sister Emily also has this problem. Hers is so bad that she actually made a rule for herself last January that she wasn't buying another book until she had conquered her tall stack of unread material. A year later, having finishing absolutely zero of the books in the stack, she decided that the more productive solution was to donate them to her local library and move on. She then bought more books and stopped the silly self imposed guilt for not having read the old ones. This is one of the many reasons I love and admire Emily-- she's an action girl.

So, you understand that when I refused to purchase Emily's recommendation for winter reading-- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins-- it wasn't out of disinterest or lack of trust. I had too many books seeking my attention! Poor little dears crying out to me for their turn. I didn't have TIME for the Hunger Games, I told her, there at The Strand on 12th and Broadway during her visit last October. Fine!, she said, don't read it! But you're the one missing out.

Well, obviously my sister-- the action girl-- took action. A few weeks later I received a package in the mail for my 28th birthday including not one but ALL THREE books from The Hunger Games Trilogy. Sorry! She said in her cheeky little birthday greeting. No excuses-- read them and let me know what you think.

And read them I did. I read them quickly and in big gulps over the next couple of months and then pressed them into John's hands upon completion. He caught up with me while on vacation in Florida and we raced to finish the series together. I finished the third and final book twenty pages ahead of him and cried out in honest-to-goodness grief at the ending. He then banished me to the hotel's hot tub--true story!-- to calm myself down lest I spoil the ending for him. I sat in that hot tub crying for Prim and for Buttercup; for Gale and for Peeta. I cried for Katniss and for Panem and then before it got too ridiculous I cured my tears with an ice cream. I even shared it with John.

I'm sure you've read these books or at least read about them, so I'll spare you further details. What I will say is this: if you want to fall deep into a story, into a world and a new way of understanding, read these books. It's not the best literature you'll ever read, but you aren't reading the best literature anyway, now are you? Hmmm? That Jane Austin that's been sitting on your side table for two years? Skip that. At least for now. Then let me know what you think.

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 2012: Ode on Intimations of Immortality

Now, Wordworth's Ode on Imitations of Immortality is a poem about springtime, but we've had a bit of spring here in January, haven't we? Hours spent reading in the sunshine, on a bench by the river. Bundling up only to shed two layers on my brisk walk uphill to the train. I've ridden my bike to work this week! Springtime indeed.

It's also a poem about regret of an ending, an anxiousness that you didn't drink it all in, that you didn't live it right. It's about mourning a lightheartedness that fades with knowledge and education and experience. It's a dark one, no doubt. But electric in its sense of gratitude and anticipation. John and I read it the other night-- surprised at ourselves for doing such things, but thankful just the same. Those Romantics understood it--- this crazy, temping spring.

Ode: Intimations of Immortality

William Wordsworth

Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;--
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen
I now can see no more.


The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.


Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor’s sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
And all the earth is gay;
Land and sea
Give themselves up to jollity,
And with the heart of May
Doth every Beast keep holiday;--
Thou Child of Joy,
Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy


Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call
Ye to each other make; I see
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
My heart is at your festival,
My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
Oh evil day! if I were sullen
While Earth herself is adorning,
This sweet May-morning,
And the Children are culling
On every side,
In a thousand valleys far and wide,
Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
And the Babe leaps up on his Mother’s arm:--
I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
--But there’s a Tree, of many, one,
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.


Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a Mother’s mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely Nurse doth all she can
To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.


Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six years’ Darling of a pigmy size!
See, where ’mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses,
With light upon him from his father’s eyes!
See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;
A wedding or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral;
And this hath now his heart,
And unto this he frames his song:
Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
But it will not be long
Ere this be thrown aside
And with new joy and pride
The little Actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his "humorous stage"
With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
That Life brings with her in her equipage;
As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation.


Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy Soul’s immensity;
Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,--
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day, a Master o’er a Slave,
A Presence which is not to be put by;
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!


O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction: not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest--
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.


Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor’s sound!
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.


And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Simon Rich: Center of the Universe

This week's Shouts & Murmurs is obnoxiously accurate and undeniably brilliant. Have you read it yet? Eh hem:

On the fourth day, God created stars, to divide the light from the darkness. He was almost finished when He looked at His cell phone and realized that it was almost nine-thirty.
“Fuck,” He said. “Kate’s going to kill me.”
He finished the star He was working on and cabbed it back to the apartment.
“Sorry I’m late!” He said.
And lo: she did not even respond.
“Are you hungry?” He asked. “Let there be yogurt!” And there was that weird lo-cal yogurt that she liked.
“That’s not going to work this time,” she said.
“Look,” God said, “I know we’re going through a hard time right now. But this job is only temporary. As soon as I pay off my student loans, I’m going to switch to something with better hours.”
And she said unto Him, “I work a full-time job and I still make time for you.”
And He said unto her, “Yeah, but your job’s different.”
And lo: He knew immediately that He had made a terrible mistake.

They bought some beers at a bodega and drank them on a bench in Prospect Park. And Kate introduced Him to a game her friend Jenny had taught her, called Would You Rather?
“I don’t know if I want to play a game,” God said. But she made Him play anyway, and after a few rounds He saw that it was good. They played all afternoon, laughing at each other’s responses. When it got cold, God rubbed her shoulders and she kissed Him on the neck.
“You know what I kind of want to do right now?” Kate said. God tensed up.
“See a movie,” she said.
And God laughed, because it was exactly what He wanted to do.
They decided to see “The Muppets,” because they had heard that it was good. They had a great time, and when it was over God paid for a cab so they wouldn’t have to wait all night for the L train.