Sunday, May 29, 2011

With veins aglow

I would have given up but Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is one of my father’s favorite books, so I stuck it out, hoping for an ironic twist or natural catastrophe or messy and embarrassing suicide.

But lacking intellectual pursuits, weird sexual inclinations and/or worthy and urgent causes, the idle rich are a dull lot, and the calamity of this book is that to the last page Newland Archer’s life goes on as tediously as ever.

About 30 pages in I wondered if the book would be concerned solely with the characters’ taste in clothes, their home decorating preferences and whether or not their chefs were any good. There was a bright spot about 3/4s through were Newland realizes he wishes his boring wife May were dead, and I was like, yeaaahh, poison her! That would have livened things up, but alas, murder is just not done.

So what did I learn from this book? I learned that in the late 1800s rich white people were like walking light bulbs. They did a lot of coloring, using the rush and ebb of blood to make their faces and necks light up to convey their feelings, or turn ashen to express discouragement, disappointment or calm. Barely a page goes by without someone’s face flushing, or going pale, or clouding over, or reddening fit to burst! This is obviously the way polite society used to express their emotions.

The height of this circulatory phenomenon is the exchange between Newland and M. Riviève, the French messenger. It’s practically acrobatic. First, Newland’s words “sent the blood rushing to his temples as if he had been caught by a bent-back branch in a thicket.” Then “he saw his blush more darkly reflected in M. Riviève’s sallow countenance.” At the same time, “M. Rivière paled to his normal hue: paler than that his complexion could hardly turn.” Then “Archer, reddening slightly, dropped to his chair,” and also “M. Rivière reddened, but his eyes did not falter,” just before “the young man’s color again rose.”

Of course these corporeal warmings and chills parallel similar imagery of embers and fireplaces, the sun and the weather, kindled hope and hope extinguished. Still, I did feel at times it was bit overdone.

Here are some other examples, from a list that could be five pages long:

Archer looked at her glowingly p. 21
Miss Archer blushed and tried to look audacious. P. 33.
The young man reddened. p.34
Newland reddened p. 35.
Newland Archer reddened and laughed. P. 53
She glowed with sympathy … a dusky blush rose to her cheek. p. 54.
He colored a little p. 62.
The light touched the russet rings of the dark hair ... and made her pale face paler. p. 63.
The Duke beamed on the group … Madame Olenska’s face grew brilliant with pleasure. p. 65.
Her face lit up. p. 68.
Janey paled and her eyes began to project. p. 71
Archer felt the blood in his temples. p. 77
Her face looked pale and extinguished, as if dimmed by the rich red of her dress p. 90
The blood rushed to his forehead. p. 94
To his surprise her color rose, reluctantly and duskily. p. 98
Her face clouded over … the blood rose to his temples. p. 110
... he felt the color rise to his cheek. p. 121
She flushed with joy and lifted her face. p. 126.
Archer burst into a laugh, and May echoed it, crimson to the eyes. p. 177
A sudden blush rose to young Mrs. Archer’s face. p. 215
“Augusta,” he said, turning pale and putting down his fork. p. 232
It was Mrs. Welland’s turn to grow pale. p. 233
Mr. Welland’s brow remained clouded. p. 233
... with an insistence so unlike her he felt the blood rising to his face … p. 234
... and her face, in contrast, was wan and almost faded. p. 243
She merely looked paler, with darker shadows in the folds and recesses of her obesity. p. 248
The young man heard her with veins aglow. p. 249

And now for something completely different: The Quickening Maze

And here's a list of 250 books by women "all men should read." I put it here mostly for my reference. I don't know why this is aimed at men, except it seems to be in response to a list from a men's magazine that irritated feminists. All fine by me, but I do wonder at the tit-for-tat (no innuendo intended), and think maybe readers independent of gender may appreciate the recommendations. In any case, it would be helpful if the list compilers made an attempt to justify it, rather than just saying who sent the name of the book in. Am I missing something?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

lampshade out of me

So. My mom is here with her wine and cigarettes. She read a bad book all the way over the Atlantic and somehow reading it in an airplane when she could have been asleep makes her feel less like she wasted her time ("The Guernsey Literary Potato Book whatever"). My mother never comes without lotsa American stuff. This time the prize went to peanut butter Tastykakes. But she also brought Swifter refills, Old Navy shorts for my son, single-serving bags of Maxwell House Instant Coffee and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. So now I know all I need to know about the state of America today.

Today we’re going to catch an exhibit of Surreal Things (Surreale Dinge) downtown before it closes Sunday. Like a fat woman who boils over in a new house, I’m a huge fan of the surreal, especially the French surrealist poets. Let us hope the exhibit surprises with strange and uncomfortable situations.

Song of the day: I never thought they'd put me in the Goon Squad

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

People shouting to each other across the street

I love your idiot mittens!
I love your thesis on the fetid!
I love your nervous dancing with the dead!
I love your pussy willow wreath!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I believe

There is an afterlife - it is called literature and history.


I Am Crazier Than Anyone

The Guardian newspaper runs a series online called “Experience,” in which people are invited to share their stories with the world! Today the story is “My hair fell out one weekend.”

In honor of all of us having survived the apocalypse, and a whole bunch of other crazy shit, here’s a list of folks’ experiences, along with some links. Among my favorites is the guy who, at age 85, was unhappy with his physique, and got himself a personal trainer. And then there’s the lady who feels other people’s pain. Oy.

Warning: some intent navel-gazing.
I’ve only eaten crisps for 10 years
I didn’t leave my house for a decade
I used to hit my husband
I am a 91-year old bodybuilder
I saved endangered rhinos from a bush fire
I crushed my GBP1 million violin
I nearly died after eating wild mushrooms
I was impaled by my own scupture
I threw myself on to an exploding grenade
A great white shark ate my leg
I didn’t hit puberty until I was 21
I feel other people’s pain
I eat roadkill
I was deported
I was run over by a freight train
I lived with wolves
I’m allergic to everything
I flew the English Channel using a bunch of balloons

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

poetry brooch

I don't know if this was a particularly good idea, but I did it: The Habitual Poet questionnaire.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Classics I’ve re-read and loved twice: Jane Eyre, The Stranger
Classics I’ve re-read and stopped loving: Les Miserables, Madame Bovary
Classics I’ve finally read and didn’t especially like: Wuthering Heights, Tender Buttons
Classics I’ve finally read and loved: David Copperfield

They say Madame Bovary is a masterpiece but personally I think it is a masterpiece “of its time” for its (then) lascivious theme of a wife's adultery. Also the handling of the “disturbed woman” seems to me kind of tedious. It reveals little to the modern reader. And lastly the writing is praised to the heavens and indeed it is good but is it as good, say, as John Banville? No, it is not. I cannot read French, so perhaps I'm being unfair and the original would poke my eye out. But I doubt it.

Don’t get me started on Tender Buttons. But I think we all know that.

Still, I can only recommend re-reading books you consider worthwhile. It’s a good experience because the plot has less of your attention, the story itself is no longer being revealed, but the whole how of the writing, the language, characters and style are there to reevaluate, and sometimes it’s even better than the first go-round, and sometimes the luster dulls.

Friday, May 13, 2011

for years of service

Before all else, the umbrella is a skeleton. And whether it rains or not in the end it will again be nothing but a skeleton. Whether it snows or the sun shines or the moon or the wind rips the thing to shreds. (::removed::)

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Looks like another beautiful weekend – sunny and a bit cool, our small garden exploding with wisteria, clematis and all kinds of other stuff and nobody knows what the hell it is. I took the dog out this morning and the birds were tee-oo-ing away, except for one that was making a wretched sound I’d never heard before. Let’s call him the barfing bird. He’s apparently had enough of picturebook springtime. He gave me a good laugh.

Speaking of self-expression, I’ve had a few poems in print publications lately that I thought I’d mention. First, my poem “Whisk” is in the new RHINO. This is one of my household totem poems, and one of my favorites from that series.

I’ve also got a ghazal in issue 48 of Hayden’ Ferry Review called “Ghazal of the Jack Pines.” Hayden’s Ferry actually pays writers, which is pretty cool, although I turned down the payment in exchange for a subscription, which I’m expecting to improve my life more than money might.

Neither RHINO nor Hayden’s Ferry have actually arrived yet, though I got notifications that they are at this very moment making the big swim. But my copy of Passages North has come, and it’s gorgeous. The cover graphic is bold and sober and folkloric. I have two poems in the issue – “From the Back of My Mind,” and “Table, Uncleared.” Among the poetry, I like the dawn losinger poem “She Had No Elbows,” which starts, “etiquette came easy.” I also like the Jason Tandon poem “Neighbors,” which starts:

Like a pink-skinned moon
a boy’s head rises
in the window across from mine
and yells that we can be friends if I want.

Which brings me back to my new neighbor, the barfing bird, with whom I struck up an immediate friendship, our twin heads rising above all this flowering green to retch a little bit, just to keep things in perspective.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

My dog attempts suicide

Hey what’s this, oh a bucket of charcoal. Yeah hey I wonder what THAT tastes like hmmm chum chum chum hmmmn well no one’s looking and these are not bad nothing to write home about but hmmmn they kind of melt in your mouth if you chew them up good chum chum well I can’t believe somebody left these here unguarded these dogbite-sized briquettes of coal what’d they think I wasn’t stupid enough to eat the whole bucket of this stuff hmmn nmmm heh heh WRONG!
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