Thoughts for Thursday

I had an insight about why I am buying and hoarding books like a squirrel with its acorns before a lean winter: I think I am searching for inspiration on my own novel.

On a very subliminal level, I know what I want to do. And, every once in a while, the fog clears, the clouds part, and I can see into that subliminal level (sort of looks like the bargain basement at Filene's), and my rational mind can pick out the gem of insight from amongst the clutter. And everything comes together, purposes seem clear, the tunnel-end opens into illumination.

But, in general, my unconscious works in its own mysterious, murky and fascinating way. Which means my greedy, ever-grasping, impetuous mind has to wait and let the intuitive part work in its own fashion, in its own good time. Which makes for a schizoid-feeling LK.

This waiting and percolating part really bugs the Conscious Me. There is always that niggling fear of "I'll never write again." But, as the years have taught me, there is nothing to do but be patient.

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

This is very sad news: Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

Certainly, he was one of the great lights of contemporary American literature.

Some quotes from Vonnegut:

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.

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

Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.


New Edith Wharton biography

Everyone get in line to order the latest bio on one of America's major female authoresses. Check out what John Updike has to say in The New Yorker:

Lee is at her best with Wharton’s books. Her close and ingenious explications reveal formal patterns of design and persuasive, sometimes subtle connections with Wharton’s experiences; as with most authors, her life was her ultimate subject, whether she was projecting her imprisoning marriage and thwarted romance into the rural misery of “Ethan Frome” or using her own broad experience of authorship in the wide-ranging satire of “Hudson River Bracketed.” Lee gives the later, critically shunned novels respectful readings, and is keen enough on the short stories to rouse guilt in a susceptible breast over their less than canonical status.

Other reviews: UK Guardian, London Times

Hermione Lee on Edith Wharton short stories

Edith Wharton In the News


What I'm reading

As I am in the midst of reading several interesting books (and far away from finishing them), thought I'd share what is in the NBR (now-being-read) pile.

Portrait of a Lady. I'm about a third of the way through. The story and characterizations are fully engrossing. Based on this and Turn of the Screw, I note that one device James employs is the repetition of words or phrases. I don't know if that is conscious or not, but I suspect on some level it is. For example, in this book, I am underlining the words "lady" or "young lady," and they appear every other chapter at least. In Turn of the Screw, the catch-phrase was "innocent." I believe James is examining (or, at least, presenting) the various meanings such words or phrases can hold, and then letting the layers build. Another observation: James is not the most mellifluous of prose writers, is he? His sentences often are murky, convoluted and awkward. Despite this, his characters deepen and his plots thicken.

Ghost Hunters. Oh, yes, something light! And still in the Victorian age -- and related to the James family! This is about the movement, led by Henry James's brother William, to study psychic phenomena at a time when religion and science were polarized into two camps. These folk were trying to bridge the gap and at least open the dialogue between what is known and what is taken on faith.

Making of Victorian Values. Not too deep yet into this book, but it all relates quite nicely with Portrait and Ghost Hunters. Something happened during the Victorian Age that I believe is parallel to a sea-change that is happening now: A questioning in how we look at morality and ethics, and how religion and science fit into that.

Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant. A slim book, and a bit difficult to find. I'm about two-thirds of the way through. It is an odd little book, because Oliphant took her whole life to write it. She wrote a bit, then put the book away for many years, then picked it up again, put it away for years, etc. But it's very touching. In the first part of the book, she deals with absolutely devastating personal events (namely, the death of her only daughter and namesake and of her son. All except one of her six children, I believe, predeceased her.) honestly and nakedly; reading the account is as painful as looking at a raw wound. In the last third of the book, she writes in an objectified, distant way -- "then this happened," "then that happened." Both styles are legitimate and effective; it's just sort of unusual to have them jammed together in the same book. (The explanation is that the book was published posthumously; the author obviously didn't shape the narrative.)

I did manage to finish one novel: And Then We Came to an End. This is a smart and funny examination of the corporate culture in America. I really enjoyed how the author used the corporate "we" as a narrator for most of the book. Highly recommended!