Sunday, February 23, 2014

Books I've Read

February 23, 2014

I love finding a good book. Not just any old read, but a book that I can spend time with, get to know, take to coffee, snuggle up with on the sofa. A book that captures my mind and leaves me feeling its lack while I'm at work, that distracts me when I'm hanging out with friends. A book for which I will steal away during a dinner party for a few covert pages.

Sometimes I find myself looking at used books. It might be at a used bookstore, or a thrift store that sells books. I might be glancing at titles in a garage sale or coveting novels on somebody's bookshelf. I'm glancing through the shiny dust covers and something catches my eye – something different, something interesting. Something promising. Like the furtive eye contact made from across the room with a stranger. Something in their eyes says that they, too, are looking for something. Maybe you're looking for the same thing - be it romance, lust or just to get the hell out of there with somebody and have an intelligent conversation. Maybe what you're longing for doesn't correspond with their needs; maybe you'll never even know. But the spark happened and it will not be ignored. This first contact stirs something in the belly, and I felt this the other day as I was looking at the hardcovers on top of the bookcase in the mass market paperback mystery section of a used bookstore. Between the garish and tawdry dustcovers a trade paperback in a matt, darker-color was tucked in, with typeface that called attention to itself by being subtle – a lighter color on the darker background – along with filligree in just slightly darker shade than the type. This could be my next romance. Something just felt right in the second that my eye passed over the spine. A couple of seconds later, though, I realized that I already knew this work. We had already spent our time together on the sofa, in the coffee shop and even – dare I write it here – in my bed. I had held it in my hand as I talked with friends, so that I could feel its presence even when I wasn't able to read its pages. Indeed this one was special; the design on the cover did not lie. Our affair was intense and lasted longer than most of my other affairs. But, it had already come to its inevitable end, and oh, but it's sad when a love affair dies – as the song says.

It's too soon yet, Meaning of Night. Maybe someday we will revisit our romance, but for now, love, let us keep fond the memories we have of each other.

e A r n i e

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Elephants Can Remember

"This must be the worst Agatha Christie book ever."
"The math is off, so badly and so often..."

I heard a story on NPR the other day in which a professor had analyzed several of Agatha Christie's novels. He fed the text of a selection of them that spanned her career into a computer. He was looking at what he referred to as "indefinite words" (thing, something, anything, etc) and he also noted the number of different words used. Apparently in her penultimate novel, Elephants Can Remember, her vocabulary dropped by 20 percent and her use of these indefinite words spiked. It has been speculated that Dame Agatha suffered Alzheimer's disease.

I have loved her books. I read the Miss Marple series, then reluctantly read the Poirot series - start to finish. In order. (I ended up loving the Poirot books as well, but for entirely different reasons.) In the later novels a character named Ariadne Oliver was somewhat of a sidekick to Poirot. She was a writer, a scatty writer who seems very much to be a way for Christie to poke fun at herself through her novels.

I also read her Autobiography. Hers wasn't a glamorous, action-packed life that one would associate with a celebrity, but Autobiography was frank and sincere. She indicated that she wrote her first mystery because she had time on her hands and it was a kind of challenge her sister had given her. She had studied piano and singing. She had done needlepoint. Writing was sort of the next step. She referred to her work as "definitely low-brow". I never read that she began - or continued - writing because of a fire inside to write, a calling or an inner need to write. She looked at it financially. If she produced one book a year she could live on that. (Granted, she also said that she could write whatever she wanted to aside from that, which gave her time to write other non-mystery books that may or may not sell.) Ariadne thought to herself in Elephants Can Remember that she wasn't necessarily Noble, as one reader had called her, "She was a lucky woman who had established a happy knack of writing what quite a lot of people wanted to read."

Back to the novel. The NPR story indicated that she might have been expressing her mental situation in the book. (My goodness, she was 81 years old when she wrote Elephants Can Remember. I probably would have gotten bored of the whole thing much earlier than that.) I had already read this book, but hearing the story on the radio I had to read it again. This time it was different for me. That is to say that I took note of the atmosphere more than I previously had. It has a slight air of melancholy and even Hercule Poirot waxes nostalgic in thinking about his relationship with Ariadne. People complained that it was confusing trying to keep up with the disparate events and conversations, that there were discrepancies in the timing. The second time I read it I noticed those. Some of them were clearly discrepancies, but some of them were - it seems to me - part of the story.

The murder is one that happened in the past. How far back in the past is part of the question. Ariadne sets out to interview "Elephants" because elephants can remember. That is the way of this book - what people remember and why. How, even when people remember things incorrectly, it can be a good clue, because there is probably a reason that they remembered them that way. The events changed from one person's story to the next. The murder was 10 years ago, 15, 12. The ages of the people involved changed or were inconsistent with information that other people told Ariadne. But, that's the way of people who remember.

The murder in question was a tragedy; everybody agreed about that. And there seemed to be a certain sadness in everybody when talking about it. Even people who would love to gossip, even people who knew very little about it. Perhaps it was Ariadne projecting her weariness. Because she was weary. She was tired. It seems that she didn't want to continue investigating and even her natural curiosity wasn't enough to keep her going. Her goddaughter is why she continued. Her goddaughter feared that she might have inherited a genetic disposition to mental disorder and was hesitant to marry the man she loved.

If Christie was having trouble with memory, maybe this was her way of expressing it. So many people have said that it was one of her worst novels. But, maybe it is a better work of art if one looks at it from a different perspective. Don't look at it so much as a mystery. Set aside all of the other mysteries that she wrote, in which one took every little fact into consideration when trying to figure out whodunnit. Set aside the inconsistencies, or rather look at them in a different way. What if the book is not so much about a mystery as it is about memory. What if Dame Agatha was painting a picture of what life is like when one begins to lose their memory. The person is confused, lost in the details that are remembered incorrectly, tired from trying to think and remember, a little sad that they aren't as lucid as they once were. Of course she would present this painting in a mystery novel; that's what she was known for, that would be the best way to get people to read it. She had already established a character she could use to represent herself. It's brilliant, and beautiful and a little sad. But, she was woman who loved life. She did so much. And through it all, she kept writing.

Agatha Christie is my hero.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Too Beautiful a Day to Be Inside

February 9, 2014

What a beautiful day. It's been unusually cold this winter; we've had several cold snaps in which it froze. The school districts have closed several times due to "Inclement weather", but that simply means that it might freeze with precipitation, which could lead to ice on bridges. And indeed, 50-car pile-ups happened on more than one occasion. The plants on my porch have mostly died and I cut them all back last week.

But, today it was clear, the sun was out and it went from 45º to 73º. I wore a decent T-shirt under my hoody so that when it warmed up I could take the outer layer off. I went to Corporate Coffee Shop to start with. I intended to go home and work around the condo, but I decided to enjoy the day. Walk around outside. Be out of the condo.

This is where I think that things always get a little odd, where things go wrong. I was reading a book and it mentioned the impression that a character got when entering a building. I was thinking that I should make my home be like that. I have stuff to make it impressive and homey, but I wasn't at home. I was out enjoying the weather. I have copies of book jackets that I've been meaning to frame and hang. (I ordered a reprint of an Agatha Christie novel - in exactly the original style, typefaces and dust jacket and everything - that I found particularly impressive [for reasons other than just the novel itself.] If you're interested, it's I've been meaning to hang copies of the cover art in my office space to inspire me to write. I have pottery that I've acquired from artist friends of Nameless. It's still in bags wrapped in bubble wrap. I've made The Room more presentable and comfortable, but I'm not in there writing. I'm out and about at thrift stores and used book stores looking for things to make my home cool, never mind that I still have things that I've acquired to make it cool and that stuff is not yet adorning my home or making anything fabulous. It's just waiting.

I am back in the habit of walking around my home and not really seeing, like putting blinders on a horse or filters on my eyes. Like selective hearing, but for vision. I can see the kitchen, but I don't see the stuff on the floor right outside the kitchen door. I see my table, but not the stuff piled on top of it.

So, I found a couple of frames for the book jackets. I found coffee and the sun and a beautiful day. I found a couple of books that I need to have on my shelves. Now, I'm at home with the griddle heating up so that I can make a petite sandwich for dinner and I have the urge to open my eyes and look around at my home and try to make it better.

God help me.

Sunday, February 2, 2014