Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Papa Bear Is Gone.

From as early on as I can remember remembering anything memorable, I loved words. And loved reading words.
In elementary school, grade two to be exact, I began recording in a little notebook all of the titles of the books I had read. I also wrote a little review of each. Sort of like “This one, real good” or “This one, not so good.” And I would record how many pages the book contained!
At Christmas I would add up all the pages and then tell people.
Stuff like that. Of course, my mother saw this literary journal of mine. She knew I was reading all the time, while normal kids were playing outside.
Well, one day she brought the book to the parent-teacher interview, and she showed my Grade Two teacher, Mrs Okrainetz. [Doesn’t she just sound mean? Like a real cackling broomstick-rider?]
Mrs Okrainetz basically told my mom that I was lying to her, that there was no possible way that I could have read all of those books.

When my mom told me this, I cried. Because the thing is, I was not lying.
All of this preamble is just to establish the fact that when I was a kid, I read every book I could get my hands on. Literally. When I ran out of library books I would take down a volume of The World Book Encyclopedia, and look at it for hours.
I remember loving those books about Clifford, the big red dog. Curious George, too. Winnie-The-Pooh. Pippy Longstocking. Paddington Bear. [I loved Paddington Bear.] Then I read tons of the Enid Blyton books, The Fabulous Five series. And The Hardy Boys. And very early on, probably at what was then a real foundational level, I fell for the Babar elephants, and... The Berenstain Bears.

Surely everyone reading this has read the Berenstain Bears. Or has read the Berenstain Bears to a son or daughter perhaps. Their little meaningful adventures make the latter-day Care Bears and Smurfs look, well... asinine!
The Berenstain Bears were created by Stan and Jan Berenstain, who began drawing together when they met at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1941. Along with Theodor Geisel (better known as Dr Suess) the couple developed the series with the goal of teaching children to read while entertaining them with great stories and wonderful artwork.
The first Bear book, entitled The Big Honey Hunt, was published in 1962. From that point onward, Stan and Jan never ceased writing and illustrating the series, publishing more than 250 books in the next four decades.


Sadly, Stan Berenstain passed away on Saturday, Nov.26th, in Pennsylvania. He was 82 years old. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons. A private memorial service was scheduled for today.
And so it is that I sit here at Starbucks tonight, in the Chapters bookstore. I’m drinking a cup of coffee, and musing over the fact that I am almost exactly as old as their first book. [I was born in ’63.] And I am thinking that I am thankful for the contribution that the Berenstains made in that little segment of my own childhood history. The moments I spent with their books.
Tonight, half a lifetime later, I am sitting in a place that has a little shelf devoted to the Berenstains, over in the Kid’s section. I sauntered over there and retrieved a few, just now. As I leaf through them, I wonder which of these, if any, were an entry in my notebook journal of long ago....

**********

Splash du Jour: Wednesday


"In one sense it could even be said that, letter-by-letter, word-by-word, page-by-page, book after book, I have been successively implanting in the man I was the characters I created. I believe that without them I wouldn't be the person I am today; without them maybe my life wouldn't have succeeded in becoming more than an inexact sketch, a promise that like so many others remained only a promise, the existence of someone who maybe might have been but in the end could not manage to be."
-- Jose Saramago, from his Nobel Lecture, 1998 –

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Way We Were...

Do you ever just sit around and flip through old photo-albums of past girlfriends?
I do.
That’s what I am doing right now, sitting at this Starbucks, after work. On the way out the door this morning I took this one photo album I have. It’s the best one. At a whim, I just threw it in my backpack.
So I am now here, sipping good coffee, and walking through the corridors of time.


I sure have gone out with some fine fine girls. Sometimes, for more than a month, even.
There’s ______ [name witheld]. We really had great times, I’m telling you. But it all ended due to irreconcilable differences. I wanted to read books all the time. She wanted to do all kinds of other stuff.
Then here’s one of ______ [name witheld]. The first thing we ever did together was have a snowball fight, after being introduced to each other by mutual friends earlier in the evening. I pelted her with a few beauties, but then man, she nearly killed me with a direct hit, right on the shnozz. I fell for her smile, and her incredible aim. I love a girl with good aim.
All of these pictures really take me back.
But then I turned the page.... and oh my!
There she was.
That’s her picture, right there at the top of this blog.

So she’s got a bit of a nose, yes... [you learn to work around it] but seriously now, I’m revealing to you here the love of my life and I will not take kindly to any untoward remarks about her rather unique....... appearance!
As soon as I saw this picture again, it was like I heard the opening strains of that ancient Streisand song.... you know the one.... “Memories. Like the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memories......”

I look away, but the music does not stop.

“Scattered pictures, of the smiles we left behind........”
Admittedly, it was a very brief affair. But all the same, I am left here this evening, filled with thoughts of the way we were.....


************************************

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all of my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say “This is it,” had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed. All that such watching and waiting ever could find would be either an image (Asgard, the Western Garden, or what not) or a quiver in the diaphragm. I should never have to bother again about these images or sensations. I knew now that they were merely the mental track left by the passage of Joy – not the wave but the wave’s imprint on the sand. The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, “It is not I, I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”
-- C.S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, chap.14, para.11 –

Today is C.S. Lewis’s birthday! He is 107.
Happy Birthday Jack!

Have a great Tuesday, ye all!

***********

Monday, November 28, 2005

Early Christmas Advice.

Here we go, I am going to help you get a bit of your Christmas shopping out of the way.
Here is the scenario.

See, I know that you are perplexed about which two books to buy someone very near and dear to you. So all I am doing tonight is easing the burden a bit.
Have they ever read any Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul?
Oh, if they haven’t they really should.
Seriously.
There’s only about 26 shopping days left!
So... the first book you are going to go out and buy is called A House For Mr Biswas.


This book was a selection in a reading group I once was a part of, and we were unanimous in our enjoyment of it. It was our highest rated of all the books we had read over an eighteen month period, and remains as one of my all-time favorite novels.
It is set in postcolonial Trinidad, and is filled with the wonderful idioms of Trinidadian English.
Mr Biswas' expectations and dreams are not all that grandiose (or so it would seem). I mean, all the poor guy wants is a house of his own, some dignity and privacy... some distance between his own family and the irritations of his in-laws, the pushy, domineering Tulsis.
But all of his efforts seem to meet with calamity. Time after time, through events hilarious, but at times, downright sad, we learn to love to pity Mr Biswas.
We follow him through a plethora of jobs, from sign painter and plantation overseer [Mr Biswas miserable] to hilariously inventive and ever-optimistic journalist [Mr Biswas happy].
We continue to hope his ship will come in, and we stay with him throughout his entire life as son, husband, father, and family man until his final triumph... a very peculiar house of his own.

The strength of the book is in how Naipaul uses humor to portray the un-funny struggle that people in impoverished circumstances face when trying to reach even modest goals.
As such, Mr Biswas' world is presented as realistically bleak as ever, in a novel that isn't.
A poignant book, maybe even flawless.

Then, the second book you are buying, is Miguel Street.

There's no two ways about it... this book is funny. Witty. Endlessly sarcastic. There I am, reading it in the park, and laughing out loud in certain parts, like a bit of a loonie!
At one point, the author calls what he's doing here "sketches". That's exactly what it is... connected vignettes. Observations of the lives that make up Miguel Street, a street in Port of Spain, Trinidad. It is all set down and seen through the eyes of a young, fatherless boy.
It is written with such a clear eye that it seems autobiographical, and here on Miguel Street we see the germ or the kernel of many of the characters that Naipaul would develop further in A House For Mr Biswas which he published two years after this one.
Ah, it is too good. The language, the idioms, the vernacular here are priceless... 1940's Trinidad bursts into view.
A little book with big laughs!
Get these two books for someone you really like. For Christmas.


**********

Splash du Jour: Monday


“For some of us, good books and beautiful writing are the ultimate solace, even more comforting than exquisite food.”
-- Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Shelf of Lewisness.

A while ago, (I cannot recall exactly when it was) I mentioned that I would bloggify a photo of the specific area of my bookshelves devoted to the work of C.S. Lewis.
Here is the picture.
I’ve scaled it down considerably to fit on this page, and some detail is thereby lost, but every book is written by Lewis or else is written about Lewis.

And I have pretty much read them all, several times over, in most cases. I even have a few more, which do not fit on the shelf... you could say that my apartment is rather generously littered with Lewisness.
The little framed picture next to the Narnias is a neat little conversation starter.
“Oh, is this your grandfather?”
“Yes, in a way I suppose you could say that he is....”

Then, from there, I launch into a soliloquy of what C.S. Lewis means to me.


COMING SOON: A retrospective of all of the Starbucks artwork, adorning my walls.
*********

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Garden of Roses

I was going to keep this poem to myself until Valentine’s Day, but no, I'll send it forth today.
Ahhh.... spoken like a true schizophrenic!
I send it out, hoping that most of my readers cannot relate whatsoever to the first three verses and can totally identify with the fourth.


A Garden of Roses

Leaving once fragrant paths only magnifies
their differences. Neither can count the dreams
They no longer share, and there
the moist flower fades and dies.

Now they starve, where once a feast
was served. And forgetting that love is weakness
Unyielding… the one wielding
the most power, loves the least.

Too common is this marriage of thorns.
All said and done is rubbed raw and stripped of life;
No moisture… drought, strife
reign here, where love is scorned.

But to meet two lovers as one, that care…
Ah, here is a walk through a garden of roses;
Smell the earth, for there is birth
and rain here… yet all too rare.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005


Kass.

The Beginning of Wisdom, by Leon R. Kass.
After two decades of studying the Bible and consulting books about the Bible, I can honestly say that I have never read anything as lucid, informative, thorough, illuminating, and critically relevant as Kass's book on Genesis.
It is unlike any other commentary I am aware of, in that, rather than being set up as a standard verse-by-verse exposition, it follows the ideas and the storyline of Genesis in a coherent, chronological format.
Nothing is omitted from discussion, or avoided, every verse is treated, but always in a way that lends itself to a greater understanding of the integrated whole of Genesis.
Kass's expert interaction with the text is a result of his twenty years of teaching a seminar on Genesis, and his commitment to the premise that "to discover the meaning, a text must be studied in its own terms." (p.14).What we need is "a disinterested and philosophic pursuit of the truth" (p.2). By "disinterested" Kass means a pursuit without an agenda, without a bias (without prior assumptions, religious or otherwise) and by "philosophic", he simply means "wisdom-seeking".
And by "truth", well, to me that is one of the great things about the book... the author believes that there IS such a thing as truth, and wisdom, for that matter. A seemingly rare position to hold, among today's modern academia. It may be an approach that does not work for every reader, but it works for me.
He says that there are three methodological assumptions on how to read Genesis. The first is to read thoroughly skeptically, in which case the reader would most likely want to quit reading after just a few pages. Secondly, entirely by faith, by which the reader already believes everything even prior to reading the first few pages. Thirdly, the way of "thoughtful engagement", by which the reader suspends his/her disbelief and has an earnest desire to simply let the text speak for itself. Much as we would do with other literary works, even novels. This third method is the one Kass advocates as being his own, and encourages all readers to adopt. In doing so, he presents an assessment of Genesis that is quite different from what I may have heard in my own seminary education, but it is one that I regret not having adopted sooner. For I have learned more in reading this book, than in all of my previous years of formal instruction.
If the Bible characters existed at all, well, here we see them as they really were... not just Bible Superheros, not infallible demi-gods (as they are often portrayed) but as real live people who made as many bad judgements as good, and were not always as pious or Godly as we readily assume. Aside from all of this, the book is readable. By that, I mean, it is not pedantically smudgy nor needlessly polysyllabic. It is clear, it is so wonderfully readable and clear-headed, and laced with footnotes, often describing how the source of his findings came not from himself, but from his students and colleagues.
He states his purpose clearly. "First, to demonstrate by example a wisdom-seeking approach to the Bible that attempts to understand the text in its own terms yet tries to show how such an understanding may address us in our current situation of moral and spiritual neediness. Second, to recover in their full power the stories of Genesis as tales to live with, as stories illuminating some of the most important and enduring questions of human existence. Third, to make at least plausible the power of the Biblical approach and response to these questions, with its emphasis on righteousness, holiness, and reverence for the divine." (p.13).
Does the book succeed, regarding these goals?
Yes.
Is there a better book on understanding Genesis available today?
No. Not that I am aware of.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

regret: a poem.

I wrote the following poem a couple of years ago.
I experienced it about a decade before that.
I feel it, still.

regret

poor fish
gasping for water
not meant to be out here in the sun
hearing this gibberish (others so happy about your mistake).

poor fish
gills flaring… hoping.
are you thinking of the damn hook?
one eye in the dirt, one in the blue, blue sky.
you flip, you toss, but ah, the wrong way
up the bank and down, down (laughter)
dirtier now for all the effort
a bit further from your cool home
and more dead.

ah fish
i too have gasped like this.


©
Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some Penises of Things.

Please forgive me for totally switching gears here, from talking about C.S. Lewis for several consecutive days to now, today, talking about...... well....
See, I am here at Chapters and it just happens that they are having one of these “meet-the-author” events right now. It is still in progress actually.
This evening it is Ira Basen & Jane Farrow, two of the four compilers (authors) of the updated, new and improved Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information. Canadian Edition.
So, mostly because they were causing such a racket, I left off my reading of Anne Lamott and sauntered over and listened for a while.

They were very engaging, these two. They spoke a bit about their research techniques and then they fielded questions from the audience. At one point I picked up a copy of the book from a nearby display, and thumbed through it.
There were sections involving literature and politics and other topics of interest to me, but I chose instead to turn to the ANIMALS chapter and for quite while there I was, engrossed, flipping around.
All of it is interesting stuff, but this one page really umm... grabbed my attention.
It contained the following list:

Average Erect Penis Lengths For 10 Species

1. Humpback whale -> 10 feet (3 m)
2. Elephant -> 5-6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 m)
3. Bull -> 3 feet (1 m)
4. Stallion -> 2.5 feet (76 cm)
5. Rhinoceros -> 2 feet (60 cm)
6. Pig -> 18-20 inches (46-50 cm)
7. Man -> 6 inches (15 cm)
8. Gorilla -> 2 inches (5 cm)
9. Cat -> 3.4 inch (2 cm)
10. Mosquito -> 1/100th inch (0.25 mm)

Note: The Argentine Lake Duck averages 16 inches from head to foot. However, its erect penis size is 17 inches.
_____________

My first eract... I mean, reaction was sort of like, “Seven Beards of Zeus! What is the deal with this humpback dude?”
Like seriously, is that even necessary?
10 feet?
10 FEET?
I’ll tell you one thing. He’s not going to be hiding that by wearing baggy trousers!

No siree!
That is large!
Exactly what sort of gal is this guy dating? What’s her story?

Hopefully no vessel loaded with Viagra upsets on the Atlantic or Pacific! Can you imagine herds of humpbacks eating their way through these shipwrecked crates?

Think of the water displacement!
The next day’s papers would read “Scientists Stymied over Sudden Shift in Shoreline! Overnight, the world’s ocean levels have risen ten feet!”
But shipwreck or no shipwreck, let’s face it, these whales are swimming around and peeing (and whatnot else) through their massive culverts all day long!
And we wonder why the ocean is so salty?

Time and tact do not permit me to go on and discuss my initial impressions of the terrestrial beasts on the list, of which I myself am but a humble member.
However, reading about the elephants has forever altered my innocently-held childhood belief that the flying ears were the biggest thing on Dumbo!

I went back to my corner.

I put the List book down and went back to my own book and coffee. I picked up Anne Lamott again.
By one of those strange twists of coincidence, the name of the Lamott book is Bird by Bird.
So I thought once again of that incredible Argentine Lake Duck, and I wondered, “How does he pull that off?”
[No double entendre doubly intended, I swear it!]


[Still want more?]
************

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

A wardrobe that belonged to the Lewis family is now in the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where anyone can visit it.
Lewis’s writing desk and a vast collection of personal letters and other memorabilia, such as a pen, pipe and a well-worn tea mug, are also there.
The wardrobe is seven feet tall and four feet wide and is filled with period-style coats, including one that belonged to Lewis’s brother, Warren.

There is a sign on the wardrobe door:
“Enter at your own risk. The Wade Center assumes no responsibility for persons who disappear or who are lost in the wardrobe.”

It makes me wish I knew someone in Illinois so that I could be taken on a tour of this place one day....

Have a great Wednesday!
*********

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Surprised By Joy.

For a large portion of my afternoon at work I have been thinking about C.S. Lewis.
Distracted, even.
Now I am drinking coffee at Starbucks.
Still thinking, but way less distracted.
I recall reading Surprised By Joy, which is an essential book if one is going to begin to understand the one-sixth of Lewis that was above water (so to say).
This is the firsthand account of how C.S. Lewis passed from Atheism through to Theism, and onward to Christianity. It was an arduous process. Lewis says in the Preface that he knew of no autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not by far the most interesting. As such, the entire first half of his own consists of a detailed recollection of childhood and adolescence. The second half is devoted to tracing his adult intellectual interests and particularly to recounting the thought processes which led him in his thirtieth year to a profound conversion experience.
Lewis said, "How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call 'joy'."
By "joy" he was referring to his concept of "sehnsucht", a German word that came closest to the sense of yearning or longing that Lewis felt throughout his life, from as early on as six years old.
Sehnsucht is an experience difficult to define... it is a longing for an object which is never fully given, coupled with a sense of alienation or displacement from what is desired. Perhaps another way of describing it could be to say that it is a ceaseless yearning which always points beyond itself. It is this elusive nature of sehnsucht that Lewis had in mind when he (in typical brevity) coined the phrase "our best havings are wantings."
It is not something one goes in deliberate search of. In fact, Lewis said that seeking sehnsucht for its own sake was the surest way to never experience it. Yet occasionally it was found in an unbidden way. The “finding” is elusive. And it finds you.
The (usually recurrent) experience consists of the sense of a fleeting joy and the sad realization that one is yet separated from what is desired. Yet, it is more than this... it is ceaseless longing, it is causeless melancholy, it is ecstatic wonder. It is nostalgia. The hush of the deep mystery of man's finitude and creatureliness coupled with a sense of numinous mystery. Otherness.
I myself have experienced it umpteen times, and yet cannot describe it in a transferable way. My own clumsy definition would be something like this: It is the incomprehensible momentarily made known, with the proviso that one cannot carry it away, prolong it, or even reproduce it.
"Effort, and expectation, and desire / And something evermore about to be." -- Wordsworth --


At any rate, sehnsucht or "joy" was such a crucial element in the development of Lewis that we find it here in the title of his life story, and the "surprise" for him was in the gradual realization that joy (as such) was not foreign, contrary to, unaddressed by, or otherwise opposed to theism.
In fact, Lewis began to see that the most religious of writers (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil, Spenser, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Herbert, Donne, Chesterton, MacDonald) were those in whom he found the most kinship in this respect, while those who did not "suffer from religion" (Shaw, Gibbon, Voltaire, Wells, John Stuart Mill) seemed as nourishing as old dishwater. This latter troupe, with whom Lewis himself should have most identified, (for he himself was an atheist at the time) could not speak to him at the level which meant the most to him. The level of joy. Only these others, that former bunch, seemed to know of it!
He concluded: "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading."
In other words, even the pursuit of certain forms of literature could inadvertently lead one to the surprising realization that those doors you’d become so fond of leaning against had been all the while supported by the framework of theism!
I think that this was the “surprise” for Lewis. Not so much the “joy” or the “sehnsucht” itself, (for he had been experiencing it since he was a child) but the acceptance of the fact that highly intelligent theists (believers in God) knew of it as well.
Joy and God were not in opposition to one another.

*************

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

In just a few weeks time, when the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is playing in the theatres, thousands... perhaps millions of people will be introduced for the first time to the magic of C.S. Lewis.
Many others of us have known him for years and years. From the moment I discovered his scholarly theological writings and his wonderfully imaginative fiction, I have been devoted to C.S. Lewis.
I think of him especially today, because November 22nd, 2005, is the 42nd anniversary of his death.
On this day in 1963, the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated, C.S. Lewis, or “Jack” as he was affectionately known, passed away at his home in Oxford, England.
The final picture of Lewis must come from his beloved brother, Warnie.
In his memoir, he wrote:

Once again – as in the earliest days – we could turn for comfort only to each other. The wheel had come full circle: once again we were together in the little end room at home, shutting out from our talk the ever-present knowledge that the holidays were ending, that a new term fraught with unknown possibilities awaited us both.
Jack faced the prospect bravely and calmly. ‘I have done all I wanted to do, and I’m ready to go,’ he said to me one evening. Only once did he show any regret or reluctance: this was when I told him that the morning’s mail included an invitation to deliver the Romanes lecture. An expression of sadness passed over his face, and there was moment’s silence: then ‘Send them a very polite refusal.’
Friday, 22 November 1963, began much as other days: there was breakfast, then letters and the crossword puzzle. After lunch he fell asleep in his chair: I suggested that he would be more comfortable in bed, and he went there. At four I took in his tea and found him drowsy but comfortable. Our words then were the last: at five-thirty I heard a crash and ran in, to find him lying unconscious at the foot of the bed. He ceased to breathe some three or four minutes later.

On his brother’s tombstone Warnie had cut those words which were found on the Shakespearian calendar the day their mother died – ‘Men must endure their going hence.’

Mr. Lewis, I named my firstborn after you. [Jack, the cat].
You are not forgotten today, or ever, really.

Have a great Tuesday, world!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Get Your Narnias in Order!

I love seeing all of the Chronicles of Narnia displays in the Chapters bookstore.
I can see one from here where I am sitting in the Starbucks, drinking my own body weight in coffee. Everyone is gearing up for the Yuletide release of the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The marketing gods have awoken, if they have ever slumbered at all.
As I sippeth upon caffeine, I would like to take a few minutes to address a certain Narnian issue, regarding chronology.
For decades now, there has been quite a disagreement over how the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia should be read. The controversy originates over the discrepancy between when the books were written, and when they were published.

C.S. Lewis wrote the books in this order:

1. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -> 1948.
2. Prince Caspian -> 1949
3. The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” -> 1950
4. The Horse and His Boy, -> 1950
5. The Silver Chair -> 1951
6. The Last Battle -> 1953
7. The Magician’s Nephew -> 1954

The books were published in this order:

1. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe -> 1950
2. Prince Caspian -> 1951
3. The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” -> 1952
4. The Silver Chair -> 1953
5. The Horse and His Boy -> 1954
6. The Magician’s Nephew -> 1955
7. The Last Battle -> 1956

Hence, how ought one to read them? In what order?
My own ancient Collier 7-Volume boxed set follows this second sequence, above.
However, neither of these two lists is a correct chronological ordering for the Chronicles.
And for some light on the topic, I turn to a letter that C.S. Lewis once wrote to some British kid.

April 23rd. 1957
Dear Laurence:
I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother’s.* The series was not planned beforehand, as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion,
[the Witch, and the Wardrobe] I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P.[rince Caspian] as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage [of the “Dawn Treader”] I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found I was wrong.
* Laurence’s mother felt that the seven books should be read in the order in which they were published, since she assumed this sequence was intentional. Laurence, however, believed that the stories should be read chronologically according to Narnian time.
Lewis agreed.

What follows is the true chronological way in which the books should be read, according to both Laurence, and Lewis.
You will see that the order is quite significantly different than either of the other two lists.

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

HarperCollins has finally gotten it right, in the new boxed set of Narnias shown here, and displayed in pretty much every corner and aisleway of this store.
I’ve read the entire series three times and will surely read it again, it is so amazingly good.

I close with another incredibly delightful letter that Lewis wrote to some other British kid.

May 7th, 1954
Dear Joan:
As for doing more Narnian books than 7, isn’t it better to stop when people are still asking for more than to go on till they are tired?

Love from,
yours,
C.S. Lewis

Splash du Jour: Monday


The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
-- e.e. cummings

Promise me one thing.
Promise me that you will have a damn good laugh today!
And I don’t mean a wee chortle or part of a snicker and half a guffaw and all that jazz, I mean a rip-roaring laugh. A minimum of one stitch-splitting crackup!

It’s Monday, after all. What could be more hilarious than that?
Have a great one!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Heaven: LOCATED!

NEWS FLASH.
Headline in today's Bookpuddle Times.
"Heaven Finally Located -> And It's Full of Books"
*********************

Friday, November 18, 2005

Brainpan Overload.

Recently, just three days ago, I was chatting with someone at my place of employment, and I discovered that he too, was an avid reader, like me.
Whenever I discover such a thing, I usually begin to chatter a bit excessively... I probably go overboard a bit, because I get so excited about anything having to do with books.
For reasons too lengthy and boring to get into, I am no longer working alongside this person. It was a temporary set up. I will call him Leo.
After bantering back and forth about literature for a while, Leo asks me a very simple question.
“So what’s your favorite book?”
And that shut me right up! [Maybe that was the plan?]
Seriously though, I do almost nothing else in my life except read, talk to my cat, and write. And that is no exaggeration. Other than going to work every day, this is all I do. Sit in coffee shops and read and write, like I am doing right now, after work. I am at Starbucks.
So.
You would think that answering that question of Leo’s would be almost kneejerk-ish, second-nature.... an answer flying forth without the need to even think about it.
But I found (and I find) that in actuality, the opposite is the case.

Because I have read so many books, it is difficult to pick one that is a favorite.
I mean, even mathematically, if a person has read ten books, it is not that difficult to pick a favorite. But what if they’ve read a hundred? And then a thousand? Choosing one from among these thousand becomes problematic.
I suppose if a book really and truly and profoundly moved you in a very memorable way, you would never sort of forget its placement at the top of the pile. For instance, when I hesitated and stared at the ceiling, Leo quickly seized the seconds of silence to tell me his favorite book.

It was Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks.
Me, staring at the ceiling.......
Finally I did answer him, but it is only now, just minutes ago really, that I tripped over the perfect phrase, to define the condition which caused my hesitation, three days ago.

Brainpan Overload.

And where did I get such a phrase? Well, I added the last word “overload” to the “brainpan” concept mentioned in the book I have just started reading tonight. The book is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
So far I think it is one of the best things I have ever read about the writer’s life.
[See? Now this will add greater confusion at a later date, when someone asks me what is the best book about writing that I have ever read!]
Lamott, in the first chapter, says:

When I had been writing food reviews for a number of years, there were so many restaurants and individual dishes in my brainpan that when people asked for a recommendation, I couldn’t think of a single restaurant where I’d ever actually eaten.

Bingo!
I read that, a few minutes ago, and realized that this is the very thing that happens to me when someone asks me about my favorite book.
I’ve read so many things, it LITERALLY boggles my mind, and I find it tough to answer the simplest question! And I complicate matters by thinking thoughts like “What does the word favorite mean?”
I apologize ahead of time if the answer I am going to give you here is not unique enough.... but.... for me, my favorite book of all has to be either War and Peace, or Anna Karenina, and if I’ve got to choose only one, I’ll say Anna.
I’ve read it twice and I would gladly read it again, ad infinitum.
I am a real Tolstoy fan when it comes down to it.

I can’t recall reading anything quite as exquisite as Anna K. For me, I find that I am more in love with the Levin and Kitty thread, in the story, than the Vronsky and Anna thread. Also, the book contains my favorite final chapter of any book I have ever read, and even more specifically, my favorite final paragraph!
There.
This is my answer.

After wrestling with a severe bout of brainpan overload.
How about you?
Tell me. What is your favorite novel of all time?

*************

Splash du Jour: Friday

My favorite modern-day poet is Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate (2001 – 2003).
His work continues to astound me, at every turn.
Reading him has revolutionized my own poetic endeavors, I must admit. I just think he is fantastically good.
I am currently in the midst of reading his latest collection (2005) entitled The Trouble With Poetry.
Here is an excerpt, (just a portion of the whole) from his poem The Long Day. I just love this whimsical moment, when the poet closes his eyes, and imagines....

I closed my eyes and thought
about the alphabet,
the letters filing out of the halls of kindergarten

to become literature.
if the British call z zed,
I wondered, why not call b bed and d dead?

And why does z, which looks like
the fastest letter, come at the very end?
unless they are all moving east

when we are facing north in our chairs.

-- Billy Collins --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Suitable Book.

Confession du Jour:
I love reading lengthy novels.
And if it’s heftiness you’re after, you can’t beat Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
I read this slab a few years ago, and it was AWESOMELY good! It’s one of my favorite novels ever.
Published in 1993, some say that it’s the longest novel ever written in the English language.
This is puzzling to me, however, because certainly Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is longer. By sheer word count alone, Clarissa has over a million, whereas Seth’s book has 591,554.

And even Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged contains 645,000 words. So... I am not sure how the press gets away with saying Seth’s book is the lengthiest. Maybe they mean in a single volume or something? But wasn’t Rand’s book published in a single volume also? Are they using pages, rather than wordcount, as a rule?
Who cares though, right?
We aren’t trying to pull off the world record here! [Like this Simon Roberts shyster who included a a pile of meaningless pages in his Knickers book just so it could get into the Guinness Book (2003) only to be retracted later when officials realized what he had done.]
Seth is above such shenanigans. [That's quite a tongue-twister, seriously. Say it real fast, like.]

He is a fine author. I have also read his An Equal Music, and I am very much interested in reading his new (2005) historo-memoir type book, entitled Two Lives, an account of the marriage of his great uncle and aunt.

I think that the only flaw in A Suitable Boy is that it is not long enough.
If I had it my way, I would want the additional 600 pages Seth excised from his original manuscript tacked on to this pared down concrete slab we readers were left with. It took him nearly a decade to write it.
I loved the book, and here are a few reasons why:


The whole story makes sense, for one thing. Seth's characters live and breathe like real people.
His style has been called “classic realism” in the tradition of Leo Tolstoy and George Eliot.
Seth describes his preferred prose style as follows “...the kind of books I like reading are books where the authorial voice doesn’t intrude … [or] … pull you up with the brilliance of their sentences”. I think he achieves this very thing in A Suitable Boy, one of the least “affected” books I have ever read.
No-one is really a superstar, or superhero, no one individual always saves the day.
Almost everyone takes their turn at being admirable, vulnerable, humiliated, elated, dejected, disappointed, unsure, hypocritical, sincere, lovable, revered, loathed, snooty, exalted, and cast down.
Even Lata Mehra, the girl for whom a suitable boy is being sought out, even she is not technically the undisputed protaganist in the novel... so many interesting sub-stories are at work throughout this year long adventure, that, at the end, it would be difficult to single out anyone as having the leading role.
It would only be proper for them all to join hands and take a bow, our job being merely to applaud.

This book is a river with many tributaries. But it IS a river. There is a source, a unity, a connecting thread... it flows from a high point, yet the structure of A Suitable Boy is different from most "plots". There certainly is no single "bad guy" or "good guy" to point to. Here we've got four families, each member of which has their own growing up to do... and as in real life, there is no time or place for a single plot. Yet, all of them (the Mehras, Kapoors, Khans, Chatterjis), have a profound effect on each other and great themes such as pride and humility, passion and patience, the practical vs. the romantic, power and authority, cultural taboos... these themes emerge and keep the reader not only awake, but enthralled. [As opposed to what Samuel Johnson allegedly said of Richardson’s Clarissa, "...if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment.”]
With Vikram Seth, we are reading for the STORY!
It's true that there is a lot of tedious (yet necessary) political stuff going on in this book. But I found that just as I was getting tired of it (or overwhelmed, or let's say it, bored) Seth moved on... just in time, for me anyways.
Set in India in the early 1950s, it is the story of a young girl, Lata, and her search for a husband.
I must say that I found Lata's decision unpredictable and surprising, and right up until reading the very sentence I did not have a clue as to what she would decide to do, if anything at all.
I accredit my surprise to the author's skill.
When Mrs. Mehra says to her younger son Varun at the end of the book "You too will marry a girl I choose" I had to laugh, and think Hey! What a great foreshadowy segue into a sequel called A Suitable Girl.
And if there were such a thing of equal size to this present book, I would wade right into it without hesitation. A Suitable Boy is a masterpiece, and I'm confident that any true lover of story will not only appreciate it, but find it unforgettable.
There is plenty of bookpuddle to splash around in, here. You'll only wish there were more. You know an author has succeeded at something when you close his or her book, and feel a bit lonely afterward.

***********

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Today’s Splash du Jour is a potential job opportunity!

Sales Position Available
Shakespeare and company is looking for a sales person to work at the desk, help customers, distribute deliveries and organise literary events. The position requires applicants to speak both English and French. It is also desirable that the sales person will have previous experience in bookseling and a solid knowledge of literature. If interested please email your CV to:
sylvia@shakespeareco.org

On this very day, Nov.17th, 1919, Sylvia Beach opened the doors of Shakespeare and Company, the first combination English-language bookshop and lending library in Paris.
I want a job there.
I want a job there.
I want a job there.

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Princess Prunella....

Well, my day began with me sleeping in.
That is never a good start.
For the rest of the day I feel rushed.
Then it was yucky outside.
Then I was at work.
Then, to top it off, today ended up being the last day of working with my “temps” and we had become somewhat of a family, huddled together in the confines of the dusty warehouse for months now.
We all had to work a bit later than usual, and then, as a sort of finale, one of the temps, the most uncontrollably wild one of the bunch, shrunk-wrapped me.
What?
Well, she sort of Saran-wrapped me with the transparent plastic wrap that is supposed to hold boxes together on a pallet or skid. I barely escaped with my life.
So now, on the way home, I stopped at this Starbucks, and here I am.
I ordered my coffee and then wondered if maybe there was something I could write about today.

Totally uninspired, really.
But (serendipity) as I was waiting for my cafĂ© americano, I looked down, and right in front of me was a basket filled with children’s books, and right at the front, was this one, shown here, written by my favorite female author, Margaret Atwood.
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut.
The basket of books is just one of the immensely great ideas that Starbucks comes up with on a regular basis. It’s a Christmas program called “Stories Fill Dreams”.

People donate a new, unwrapped book to this Holiday Book Drive and then Starbucks, in conjunction with local schools, re-distributes the books where they are most needed in schools and organizations in the community.
I think it is an awesome idea, and really, it makes me proud of the fact that approximately 90% of all my body fluids are a result of ingesting Starbucks products!
So.
What did I do?
Well, I shiftily glanced to the left and to the right.... and I took off with the book!
Yeah, seriously, I did. It is sitting here right in front of me still, and I have just read it.
It is fabulous.
I so wish I was a kid!

OK, here is what the book is about, in a purple nutshell.
Prunella, a proud, prissy, princess, plans to marry a pinheaded prince who will pamper her--until a wise old woman's spell puts a purple peanut on the princess's pretty nose.
See, the book is written in profound proliferation of purposely placed “p” words.
It is a real thoroughgoing exercise in alliteration.
Like, here are a few example sentences:
"Princess Prunella lived in a pink palace with her pinheaded parents, Princess Patty and Prince Peter, her three plump pussycats, Patience, Prue and Pringle, and her puppy dog, Pug."
Or, I loved this one: “And for supper she fed Prunella some parsley and paprika soup, a pile of potted pigeon and pike and pickerel pancakes, and some pepper and porridge preserve, on a pretty plate patterned with pendulous poppies.”

This is not Atwood’s first or only foray into alliterative books for kids. There is also one called Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, and the soon-to-be-published Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda.
She says: “Princess Prunella began as a story I used to tell my little girl when I was brushing out her long curly hair. I was used to telling stories to children, as I worked with them a lot when I was a teen-ager. I was a camp counsellor, for instance. Also I had a much younger sister — I was in charge of her Hallowe’en birthday party, which was always a dramatic event. I used to paint my face green, gather the children underneath the dining room table, turn out all the lights, and tell them ghost stories. In addition to that, I had a puppet show, which I ran with a friend of mine. We started out by doing our puppet show at kids’ birthday parties, and then went on to give it at company Christmas parties.”

Well, I have just read the story, and I loved it.
And every good children’s story needs good illustrations, am I right?

Well, the illustrations in this book are just great. They are the work of Maryann Kovalski.
I’m sure I have stared at these pictures longer than a kid would have. She uses a lot of pastel color, and the expressions on each character, especially the animals, is superb.
And when The Wise Woman’s bag upsets on the stairway, spilling its contents, we see among the things scattered, a copy of the Enquirer, and the front page reads: 98-YR OLD WOMAN WEDS 22-YR OLD MAN! “I LOVE HER. TO ME SHE LOOKS 80.”
And when the peanut-nosed Prunella is served supper in bed, the servant has this emblazoned on her apron, I HATE TO COOK.
Some comic relief for the adult reader of the story....

Anyways, I know this blog is getting downright Tolstoyan in length, but I simply cannot resist to include here a couple of alliterative poems I wrote about 403 years ago.
The reason I can’t resist, is because the first one is even written in “p”!
[No, not urine, but... you know what I mean, right?]

So, please indulge me..... these must be read as a duo, together, like.

His Apology In “P” Flat

Please?
Please?
Please?
Perchance pretty petunias would appease
Your profound perturbations? I’ll not cease
To proclaim innocence, yet painfully will I perish
If failing to produce passion. Will you not cherish
Pure pristine pleas from my heart… on my knees?

Dear, if I have been priggish… pray, pardon my prigness;
Perhaps a bit piggish? Pour lard on my pigness
But please end this prolonged persecution in my head
That parades past our parlour, and creeps into bed.

Pale and skinless as a poor peeled potato I beseech
At least provisional pardon… oh, precious pretty peach.
Come now! Perceiving the plethora of previous penance made
Is your peeved personal piper yet a’ piping unpaid?
… And my prayerful pleadings beyond passion’s pure reach?
Please!
Please!
Please!


Her Reply In “S” Major

Sorry?
Sorry?
Sorry?
So soon you shout your sinless sincerity
With such “savoir faire” and sad sensitive clarity.
Saturday’s senselessness swallowed by Sunday’s repentance?
You suspect I should suddenly suspend your sad sentence?
So like a man! No sense of severity!

“Innocence” you said? I was shocked to the seams!
One-sided supplications survive only in dreams.
Have you searched? Is there not something left on the shelf?
Would simply a “Sorry” be too much from your Self?

“Too simple” you say? Well, my piper’s still playing
Piping song after song after song, till you’re paying.
Come now! Sip from the sweet superiority of female insight
Or listen in silence… all sleepless night.
…Just send me some sign that you’re willing… and saying
Sorry!
Sorry!
Sorry!

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

OK, I should probably go home now.
But I bet I know what you are thinking about right now.
You are wondering if I put the book back in the Starbucks basket!
I did.
I profusely promise you, Princess Prunella is perfectly placed properly in her previous proximity!
************

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

I am currently reading Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.
The book is a series of ten letters, written from 1903 to 1908, and addressed to a young admirer of Rilke’s work. [Elsewhere in Bookpuddle I have spoken about my own admiration of Rilke.] Now, at midpoint of the book, I am already convinced that this small and deceptively simple tome contains some of the most amazing insights I have ever read on the topic of what it means to live the creative life. To be an artist. To do art.
Passages like the following, (and there are many just like it) leave me speechless and numb (in a good way):


All things consist of carrying to term and then giving birth. To allow the completion of every impression, every germ of a feeling deep within, in darkness, beyond words, in the realm of instinct unattainable by logic, to await humbly and patiently the hour of the descent of a new clarity; that alone is to live one’s art, in the realm of understanding as in that of creativity.”

Look at the emphasis on ineffability, everywhere there. The respect for the limitation of language. The “beyond words-ness” of it all. Not to digress too far from his original thought here, but I cannot help but speculate what it might mean for the world of FAITH or of RELIGION, if we just substitute either of those words into the above, where the word ART appears.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Moon And I.

Just sitting here at Starbucks by the fireplace, totally high on coffee, and thought I would post one of my original poems tonight.
It is a dark and stormy night outside... in fact, the power just went out in here, and then BLOOP, the lights all came on again. I guess we are now on generator power.
I had a good laugh because this Starbucks is part of the larger Chapters bookstore, and just over yonder is a trio of girls, blabbing like ninety. When the darkness struck, one of them yelled, (and yelled rather loudly in the immediate silence)... "Steal all that you can!"
I'm not kidding.
So when the lights flickered back on there I was, grinning at her, and then SHE laughed.
Then I took several books out of my backpack and put them back on the shelves....
Anyhoo, truly, tonight is a night that I cannot see the moon, but I do love nights when I can.
My many years of speaking to this wonderful orb has convinced me that the linguistic connection between the word "lunar" and "lunatic" is not coincidental.
In all seriousness now, I offer you this poem I wrote, many a year ago....

The Moon And I

A quarrel in the beginning?
A final punch that sent you spinning?
Your beaten face begs to tell.
Craters, so… umbilical
as though attached to unseen tethers
remember violent birth.

Sad moon.
Flung out by a determined Hand,
and sorrowing ever since.
Forever… a rejected friend
circling the offended
and longing to be forgiven.

Lonely moon.
You punctuate the heavens
attacking darkness with borrowed light
that dances with a million partners
on this water tonight…
while you can only watch.

Patient moon.
Racing, tumbling, yet motionless
on your pedestal, waiting…
You are ripe, and
suspended from a bending branch
like a grey orange unplucked.

Valiant moon.
Never once showing your back.
Choosing stealth over sword,
you quench the flaming disk
and muzzle volcanic ragings
by simply floating into place.

Sensuous moon.
Clad only in dust, twirling
on display, and unashamed…
causing the ocean to heave and toss
and arch her back like a lover
pulling sheets from the shoreline.

Peaceful moon.
Content atop your hill of nothing
you lodge no complaint
and manage a monthly smile,
that crescent grinning
like a lime wedge on the rim of a glass.

Friendly moon.
Do you mind me tonight?
Generous moon.
I’ve again shared your light.

And if you’d only speak
about the quarrel
(the fight)
I’m sure we’d compare punches
‘till all hours of this night…

But it’s silent, so silent
and I’m wondering,
wandering
through future and past,
the present obscure,
as though I were my own ghost
orbiting a life.


© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


Maybe it's the sense of impending snow, lately, but I've been listening to this song quite a bit...




As I sit and watch the snow
Fallin’ down
I don’t miss you at all
I hear the children playin’ laughin’ so loud
I don’t think of your smile

So if you never come to me
You’ll stay a distant memory
Out my window I see lights going dark
Your dark eyes don’t haunt me

And then I wonder who I am
Without the warm touch of your hand

And then I wonder who I am
Without the warm touch of your hand
As I sit and watch the snow
Fallin’ down

I don’t miss you at all
I don’t miss you at all
I don’t miss you at all

-- lyrics by Norah Jones

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Banville Bashes "Bad" Book @ Booker!

Aye, the Irish are a feisty lot!

At lunchtime I usually focus directly on eating. No abstractions.
But today, while focussing intently on the above activity, I happened to glance at the newspaper which someone had left there, and which just happened to have fallen open to the BOOKS section, where a certain Reuters article proceeded to draw me into its vortex.
In other words, I guess you could also say, “I saw something in the paper today.”

The article discussed certain comments made by this year’s winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
John Banville won this year’s Booker, for his novel The Sea, which I admit, I have been periodically drooling over in the stores. Perhaps I shall crack the wallet and buy the thing.

The Sea is the story of a recently widowed man visiting the seaside resort where he spent time as a young man. He is now trying to find the meaning inherent in his life-changing memories. Themes like that interest me.
Banville won out over a prestigious shortlist consisting of writers Julian Barnes, Sebastian Barry, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith. Interestingly enough, I was keeping an eye on the online readers-voting page at the Man Booker website, and Banville was consistently a last-runner, popularity-wise, right up until showtime.
But yet he won!
By most advance-polls, he was considered a longshot.
So, you would think that upon winning he would be very deferential.... very “I am greatly humbled, I want to thank my grandfather... yadda yadda.....”
Apparently though, this was not exactly the scenario that was played out.
Banville (the newspaper article says) made the comment that “this time” the Booker had gone to “a work of art.”
Wow.
His point was that books qualify as "art" only when they deal in timeless themes and not when they ballyhoo around in social commentary.
“When they [novels] take on current events... they cannot succeed,” he said.
Writers err, said Banville, when they incorporate topics like the war in Iraq and the Sept.11th, 2001, attacks.
Then..... THEN.... dear reader.... he touchethed the anointed one!
He said of Ian McEwan, his co-Booker-fellow and former winner of said prize.... [I’m sorry, this is where part of my lunch went down the wrong pipe].... Banville said that Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, which dealt with the above mentioned themes a bit, was a “dismayingly bad book.”
Whoaaa! Whoaaa! “Who peed in your Guinness?” I want to exclaim.
Saturday?
A “dismayingly bad book”?
I happened to love it.
Now.... having said all of this, am I angry? Do I conclude that Banville is a whacko?
No. In some ways, I am intrigued.
Is Banville’s comment brash? As in “confident in a rude or overbearing way?” Showy or tasteless in appearance?
Perhaps.
I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and see his words as bold or maybe even brave, for I cannot imagine an author, in the fellowship of authors, saying something like that for the sake of being malicious. In the definition of the word "brash" I would like to overlook the issue of his being rude or overbearing, and explore the "confident" nature of what he said.
Perhaps he meant “bad” in comparison to other things that McEwan has written?
In all fairness, Banville went on to comment that he has since wondered about the wisdom of his harsh review of Saturday (which appeared in the New York Review of Books). He said, “Some people saw it as one novelist giving a kicking to another and that’s not what I intended.”

I will probably read The Sea now, if for no other reason than to see how an author who is this critical of McEwan’s Saturday goes about writing his own book.

Splash du Jour: Monday

How can a horse stand up and sleep?
I can't even lie down and sleep half the time.
Are their consciences that clear? Is their balance that steady? Their trust that complete?
-- an anonymous insomniac friend of mine

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Curious Incident @ Chapters.

Something extremely remarkable took place just minutes ago, right here at this Starbucks in the Chapters bookstore, where I am still sitting, drinking copious amounts of coffee.
I had been here for quite a while, reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet, when two young lovers sat in the next two chairs at the long bench-like table. They kissed a bit, and whispered to each other and then settled in to reading some magazines, while I intently peered into Rilke.
Soon, the girl stood up and told her boy that she was going to walk around in the store a bit.

She left.
About a minute later, a loud voice broke the silence in the room.
“My name is Mike. What’s yours?”
[I looked over at the voice, which was attached to the head of this man sitting at the far end of our table, and I was glad that he was looking at the guy NEXT to me.... the lover-guy... and not me... I quickly looked away...]
“Ben,” said my neighbor.
“Ben, when is your birthday?” Mike loudly asked.
“Uhh... November 10th,” said a reluctant Ben.
“No. What year?” asks Mike.
“.......1985.” [Even more reluctantly offered, as you can imagine. Ben is staring into his magazine as intently as I am staring into Rilke, but neither of us are reading, now that Mike has the floor.]
“That was a Sunday,” says Mike.
“Really?” says a less than impressed Ben. “That’s wild.”
“What about your girlfriend. When is her birthday?”
Ben clears his throat.... shuffles in his chair.... “November 14th.”
“What year?” the undaunted Mike asks. [Notice that he cares not a whit about the coincidence that her birthday happens to be tomorrow.]
I can tell that Ben has had enough of this, but what can he do?
He says... “1986.”
No sooner has he said it than Mike says, “That was a Friday.”

[My eyes are bulging out of my head and I am not comprehending one word of Rilke anymore....]

Then Mike asks, “How long have you been going out?”
This is surely the end of the interview I’m thinking.... and, sure enough, Ben sort of coughs and says.... “14 months. Look Mike, I think I am going to just read my magazine now. It was nice to meet you though.”
But already Mike has said, “That’s 425 days!"

And from my peripheral vision I can see that Mike is staring at (virtually) Ben and me both, looking for some sort of acknowledgment that he is correct in his figures.

He is not looking away, but neither are Ben or I looking over at him.
And how would we even KNOW that he is correct, anyway?
I am shamed to admit that I do not know how to deal with exceptional people like Mike.
He is obviously one of these people that is either autistic, or a savant-type, or both (forgive me for not knowing the correct terms even).... but you probably know what I mean.
EXTREMELY gifted numerically speaking and I’m sure, in other ways too, yet lacking in social skills or verbal tact with strangers.
Why did I not look over at Mike?
Well, mostly because I felt that he would ask me similar questions and that he would proceed to tell me of how many minutes I’ve been alive or how many hairs are on my arm or something.

All of the people that I am mentioning have since left, and I am still here, reading Rilke.
But the whole episode reminded me of the character of Christopher John Francis Boone in the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, written by Mark Haddon.

It is an EXCELLENT book. I read it with my elite book club, and we (all two of us) thoroughly enjoyed it.
In it, Christopher Boone knows all of the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. These are among his many idiosyncrasies.
He is a genius, (a savant) however, in many respects, mostly numeric, or spatial, or visual.
He has a photographic memory.

Something about Mike’s final answer to Ben got me so intrigued, that I went downstairs to the calendar section of the store to verify it for myself. And I painstakingly found that Mike’s answer is totally correct.
See... his immediate answer of “425” is all the more remarkable because it goes just a wee bit beyond merely computing in one’s head the number of days in a year (365) and then adding 60 or 61 for the extra two months.... because really, you have to know which it is? Should you add the 60 or 61?
Mike said “425”.
And he was right, but I don’t think he guessed!
In other words, because “months” do not all consist of a standard number of days.... there is the added complication that not every possible combination of 14 months is going to consist of the same resultant total number of days. The answer could have just as easily not been 425! You even must account for the possible presence of a 29th day in February. Not every answer is going to be the same.
What Mike did mentally was a result of a very SPECIFIC computation. He had to at least know if last year was a leap year, and secondly, he had to consider how many days there are in September and October.
And he accomplished this feat almost before Ben was even finished his sentence of telling the guy to basically shut his yapper!

And I sat here, at the same table as Mike, and would not even look at him.
Fearful that he would want to talk to me.
It is poor of me, to be this socially debilitated, I think.
******

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Question 812.

When you go to the doctor for a checkup, they tend to ask you a lot of real personal questions.
I mean, they ask you so many questions, that sooner or later they are bound to hit upon something that will merit a prescription of some sort. You may end up leaving with this list of things to ingest and stuff to do, when all the while you were thinking you were pretty dang healthy on the way in to the examining room!
This happened to me once.
I made the mistake of answering “yes” to Question 812.

Things were going along real good, I mean, when it comes down to it, I’ve always been very healthy.
I have never stayed in a hospital for even one day in my life, and not that I’m counting, but we’re talking about 15,318 days of hospital-free living here! However, before the doctor was finished with me on this day of my checkup, he would succeed in committing me to at least one NIGHT in the hospital.
Things were going well. I was answering "NO – NO - NO" to every question, as he ticked off my responses on some sort of list, right up until he asked me, “Do you ever feel tired throughout the day?”
Sweet Lord.
“I feel tired EVERY day,” I answered. “Like you mean, at work and stuff?”
He said “Yes, throughout your normal day.”
I stupidly replied, “Well, at any given point of the day, I could pretty much fall asleep leaning on the nearest wall.... so YES... I guess I would have to say yes.”

Well!
WRONG ANSWER!

Now I was led back to the little table with the sandwich paper on it.
I had to go through a re-groping, coughing, and searchlight analysis. He shone this flashlight into my throat and stuff.
Then he mumbles.... “Yep. A-huh...”
“Whaaaaa... whaaaaaa?”
“Well, you have a narrow throat,”
he says.
“What?”
“Do you get a good night’s rest? Do you snore when you sleep?” he asks me.
“Well, I sleep alone. Or with a cat, rather, and so far Jack has not said anything about my snoring...”
“I think you may have sleep apnea. I’m going to recommend that you undergo a sleep study.”

Here's me, now... “No, no, doctor. See. Let me explain. I happen to know why I am tired all the time. It is simply because I go to sleep so late every night, and have to wake up so early. But sleeping... no, I have no problem sleeping. I can drink eight cups of coffee and lay down and be sleeping in minutes. It’s waking up that bothers the hell out of me! Now... if you could prescribe a WAKE-UP study.... then I think I’d be interested.”

But then he explained that I may think I am getting a restful sleep, when in reality I am not "entering in" to the full experience of sleep as one should, when sleeping.
And how do you argue with a doctor?
How do you say "No" to the same guy who has so recently fondled your genitalia?
I was scheduled for the sleep study.

For those of you who do not know about it, this means you have to go and sleep at a hospital.
So.
I arrived on the prescribed evening, not tired in the slightest. But I brought some books to read and thought that I’d make this as fun as possible... sort of like going to a hotel and stuff.
I was about to have a rude awakening, before sleeping.
Immediately, the nurse said, “OK sir. Please go into room B there and get ready and the nurse will be in momentarily to wire you up.”
“Excuse me?”
She looks at me, over her clipboard.....
Surely they don’t know what time it is, I’m thinking.
“Surely you don’t mean that I’m supposed to go to sleep now?”
“Oh yes. Well, we can give you a few minutes if you like, but really, our study is timed to begin promptly at...”
“BUT IT’S ONLY 9 p.m.! I haven’t gone to sleep at 9 p.m. since I was five years old!”

Her answering glare said it all.... I went into Room damn B and got ready.
I threw on my Winnie-the-Pooh T-shirt and shorts and lay there in bed like someone well into stage-5 rigor mortis. Staring at the ceiling, my eyes scanned to the top corner where I noticed a video-camera staring down at me.... and just as I was thinking a thought that can ONLY be translated as “What the hell?” the door opened, and in walked a young nurse, dragging behind her a contraption with a spool of wire on it that could easily supply electricity to a small town.
After an extremely brief introduction and absolutely no small talk, she began hooking up wires to parts of me I didn’t even know I had. I am not kidding when I say that within minutes there were no less than twenty or thirty separate wires attached to various parts my head, via a plastocine sort of rubbery adhesive. Other wires went to my knees, the calves of my legs, my eyelids, my waist, my chest, my back, my shoulders, some tubey things were taped just below each nostril. I had stuff EVERYWHERE!
I began to envision what the report would be the next morning.... “Well sir, admittedly, most of you went into a coma, but strangely, your nipples were awake all night!”
I mean.... I just couldn’t move an inch in any direction after all of these wires and gizmos were attached to me. I am sure that no astronaut upon liftoff has ever had so many wires coming out of him.
And I am a thrasher.
Like, I like to move when I sleep.
Jack HAS told me about this part of my nocturnal habits, because I have kicked him from the bed many a time! And I hate sleeping on my back.
But here I was now, wired to the gills, laying there like an unplugged robot....thoroughly immobilized, as the nurse finished up by saying... “OK, just get comfortable now, and we will be speaking with you in a bit.”
And she left the room.
As the door clicked shut I swear I imagined I could hear the opening theme music from that movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.... you know the one I mean? Then, just as the big tympani drums were pounding, from directly behind my head [I am not making one word of this up, or exaggerating one iota]... from a speaker in the wall right behind my head, came a calm female voice, instructing me to obey various gradations of humiliating procedures.
“OK sir. We would like you to wink one eye, your left eye. Now, your right.”
[I’m looking up at the video-camera thing, envisioning a roomful of nurses rolling on the floor laughing....]
“Now breathe in, real slowly. OK, exhale. Tense you right calf. Move your left knee a bit. OK, wiggle your nose like Samantha in Bewitched.”

It was driving me crazy.
Then they said.... “OK. Good night. Have a good sleep.”
Silence.
And darkness. Nothing but the little red light, up in the corner of the room, on that camera.... and amazingly, I did fall asleep.
Throughout the night I awakened several times, probably throwing needles into a spasmodic pandemonium on a distant scroll of graph paper, but overall, I did sleep fairly well.
I awoke very early. I am still not sure if I was awakened by a sound or if I awoke on my own.
But within a minute another nurse entered Room B and commenced unhooking me. Peeling away the clumps of Play-Dough in my hair and whatnot.
I looked pretty funky leaving the hospital after completing my “study”.
They made me sign a thing, and gave me a piece of paper that said something on it.
Did my doctor ever call me and say one thing about this study?
No.
And he has since moved on. Actually physically moved away. Perhaps skipped town, I’m not sure. All I know is I have yet to find another personal physician.
But I’ve learned my lesson about Question 812.

Till today I am not sure if it was all a dream.
Or just a big joke, of which I was the electrically monitored butt.

********

Friday, November 11, 2005

Doppelgangerism 101.

Those of you familiar with this blogpage will know that Jose Saramago is my favorite living author. The infamous fiasco of “hearing” him speak this past summer has not diminished my devotion one iota. His most recent novel, The Double (2004, and recently issued in trade paperback) is no exception to the rule... the man is a genius.
"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine - they are the life, the soul of reading." So said Laurence Sterne. [No. Not Howard Stern.... Laurence Sterne].
Believing the above statement to be true would really help a reader enjoy Saramago and I happen to be one of the believers. I cannot think of an author who uses the device of digression moreso than Saramago.

For me, the near-constant philosophizing of the narrator and the characters is one of the things that I love the most about The Double. This was the fifth Saramago book I ever read (I’ve read more of him since) and it helped convince me that no one is writing better, in our present world. It is a real shame that us English-bound cowboys and cowgirls have to read him in translation.
What is the book about?
Well, in an inadequate nutshell, what would it be like to suddenly find that there is another person in the world that is exactly like you, in every respect? Another YOU! A double. A doppelganger.
In its psychological twistings and turnings and in a writing style that is as wonderful and coherent as it is inimitable and unorthodox, this is the very question that Saramago brings the reader FACE to FACE with!


My initial answer to the question was "Hmmm, no big deal. So what? I have a double. Who cares?"
With The Double, Saramago has now blown the lid off of such an easy answer. Sure, the book is not about me or you, but in the protagonist Tertuliano Maximo we see shades of who we all are.
And the thoughtful (and patient) reader will find that they are drawn into a vortex of identity trauma along with Maximo himself.
Who AM I, if there is another me?
Be patient with the book, especially if you are new to Jose Saramago... give it time, you will be rewarded.
Stick with the convolutions and dialogues with "common sense"... the absolutely crazy ending is worth it all.
Saramago.
What can one say? He is a grammar teacher's worst nightmare! He does not even use "proper" punctuation. Most conventional rules of writing are thrown to the wind. He even tells you ahead of time what is going to happen to his characters later on in the story. It is crazy.
Is The Double a good book to start with if you are new to Saramago? Not really, in my opinion. The Cave, or Blindness, would be a better pier to jump off of.
But jump. Do it.
Swim with a partner, if need be.

Laurence Sterne (not Howard).... said elsewhere, I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven intended for another man.
Saramago begins this book with that as an epigram.

Splash du Jour: Friday

Two very important literary birthdays today.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky turns 184.
Kurt Vonnegut turns 83.

Here are some things they each said, about my favorite topic... laughter!

"One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man."
-- Dostoyevsky

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”
-- Vonnegut –

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Boy.


This is one of my favorite pictures of my boy.
The cat who lets me live here.
Jack is his name.
He reads.
And pukes lots.

Splash du Jour: Thursday

"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."
-- Frank Lloyd Wright (1868-1959) –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Smokerobics!

Digging through some old family photos tonight, I noticed this one of my dad skipping rope and smoking.
Like, at the same time!
By a strange coincidence, I have just finished reading a book entitled The Sickening Mind: Brain, Behaviour, Immunity & Disease.

Chapter 8 is called “Sick at Heart” and it starts with this:
“The connection between smoking and heart disease is particularly striking. Nicotine in cigarrette smoke causes the coronary arteries to constrict and encourages the build-up of plaques and clots. Smoking is the strongest and most clear-cut risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A person who smokes twenty cigarrettes a day triples their risk of coronary heart disease.”
And on the next page, it says “A number of the leading risk factors for heart disease clearly depend on our behaviour. Smoking and physical inactivity are obvious examples.”

Hmmm… smoking and physical inactivity. But… what about smoking and physical activity?
See, what my dad was doing here simply amounts to a really innovative, unique approach to aerobic exercise.
Let’s see, how would we define this? Umm… “rapidly increase the heartrate tenfold while forcing hot smoke directly into the lungs.”
See, Dad was just way ahead of his time is all. People just haven’t been able to quite catch on yet to the uncharted benefits of smoking while exercising. It seems that today this is a very neglected field of research. There’s just no funding whatsoever for the advancement of.... Smokerobics!

But I digress.

Let’s take another look at this picture of Dad “working out.”
A couple of things sort of stand out to me…
Firstly, there is this young kid (my nephew) in a little red jacket, and for all the world, he looks to me like he’s shouting to the cameraman “Look at Grandpa, he drank too much!”
Look at it, it’s obvious that the picture was snapped at the “ank” of the word “drank”!
Secondly, there’s this big huge table. What exactly is a table doing out on the lawn in the first place? And why is it that as I look at that picture I can’t help but think that if Dad continues running forward for even three more seconds he is going to surely snag his left foot with the rope and go careening into that table? Is this not obvious? Is it not almost inevitable? I mean… it’s either this or the barbeque to the right of him… these are the only two options this picture is giving us.

The cameraman would surely have gotten out of the way before either scenario.

On the back of the photo someone has written “1986” meaning that Dad was probably 59 going on 60 when it was taken. I find this very interesting. At 59 years-of-age, my Dad, whose most common words of advice to anyone within earshot was “Don’t do anything even remotely stupid”…this same guy then grabs a rope and starts skipping while smoking a cigarrette!
I stare at the picture. I know he is saying something out of the cigarette-less corner of his mouth.

There he is, frozen in time, his left foot dropping the clutch while he is probably shouting “Don’t try this at home!” Those who knew him know.

But that table.
The barbeque.
It’s all so scary.
We can only cringe, and hope that tragedy will be averted… that no limbs will be severed!

******