Pause for Gilbert Blythe

RIP and broken hearts everywhere: "Carrie Crombie said her brother never shied away from the fame that came along with playing the role of Gilbert Blythe, and happily answered to the name Gil when recognized by fans on the street."

Aw, Gil. With that hair and those dimples and that sweet, irrepressible smile and never-ending faith in his one true love. His eyes lit on that girl and never let her go. Yet he stood back and waited and let her find her way. How could we not all love him back? And Jonathan Crombie was, of course, the beautiful man on the other side of this most iconic shot:

A world without any Gilbert in it! Anne repeated the words drearily. Would it not be a very lonely, forlorn place?

Sigh. From the depths of despair.

To fall in love with a reader, part 3

From a list by Hannah Gersen at The Millions // part 1 // part 2:

Part 3.

25. Do you ever read self-help books? You bet, who doesn't need help from themselves. Tiny Beautiful Things (Dear Sugar/Cheryl Strayed) is my fav.

26. What’s a book that shocked you? The Uncommon Reader, but only in the most delightful way. Did you think I would say Gone Girl? That is a book I did not cotton to AT ALL. I don't begrudge its mammoth It status (it's a smart, well-crafted novel beloved by millions) but it needs no quarter from me. Hooray for small acts of meaningless defiance.

27. If you could force every person you know to read one book, what would it be? Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End by Atul Gawande. We have a dangerous blind spot vis-à-vis aging in general and death specifically in this country.

28. What book would you recommend to me in particular? I would recommend The Stone Diaries even to a total stranger, although it is perhaps not "a crowd pleaser." In fact it was a book I loathed the first time I read it, then years later I realized I was a moron and tried again and was rewarded with its quiet brilliance. It won the Pulitzer Prize and everything, so it's hardly unknown, but Carol Shields should have been bigger. Atwood bigger. Franzen bigger. Wait, way bigger than Franzen:

29. What books/authors have you been meaning to read for years? Why haven’t you read them yet? Henry James, thanks to liberal arts guilt. What keeps me from caving: rebelling against liberal arts guilt.

30. What kind of book do you consider “a guilty pleasure?” My only true guilty pleasure is Cheetos.

31. Has a book ever changed your mind about something? I wouldn't say Gilead changed my mind (I remain apostate), but it helped me understand the appeal of a deeply held, very personal faith and, not unlike Fox Mulder, actually made me want to believe. (But not that much.) Ditto Death Comes for the Archbishop. These are gorgeous books, btw. Rich in humor and graces.

32. If you were terminally ill, what book or books would you read? Bel Canto (beauty of humanity), Scoop (idiocy of humanity), some Calvin and Hobbes (self-explanatory)

33. Do you have any passages of poetry or prose committed to memory? Can you recite something to me? Do I! More than one! But nobody ever asks, so thank you. Here is Emily D.:

The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
"Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?"
"Because, sir, love is sweet!"

We are the flower, Thou the sun!
Forgive us if, as days decline,
We nearer steal to Thee—
Enamored of the parting west,
The peace, the flight, the amethyst—
Night's possibility!

34. If you could change anything about the way you read, what would it be? I would slow my fanny down, sit with purpose and an appropriate beverage, and study with intent. I will also work on widening my horizons.

35. Was there any time in your life when you felt as if a book guided you in a profound way? I've had the lucky experience, more than once, of finding the right book when I needed it. I remember books that I read during times of great confusion, great change, great loss, and great joy, books that were a comfort in solitude and books that brought communion with treasured friends. Reading is my religion.

36. Return to the list you made at the beginning. What titles, if any, would you change after our conversation? My list stands as stated! Although I might add The Stories of John Cheever if I was allowed to cheat. And Gaudy Night. And The Age of Innocence. And The Love Letter. And True Grit.


To fall in love with a reader, part 2

From a list by Hannah Gersen at The Millions // part 1 is here:

Part 2.

13. What’s more important to you: the way a book is written, or what the book is about? The way a book is written. It took me a long time to understand that not everyone agrees with this and even longer to come to terms with it. I mean, do you love a painting because of the brushstrokes and color application and representation of fantasy or realism or because of what's being painted (a pot)? Do you love a song for the music and/or lyrics or do you love it because it's a song about a rat (Ben)? Come on, don't be a psychopath.

14. What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with? Teju Cole (living), Nora Ephron, or Elaine Dundy (dead, dead). p.s. please don't show up dead at my dinner table.

15. If you could hang out with a literary character for the day, who would it be? I would like to skulk around some dingy London warehouse back alley with George Smiley. I feel like I would learn something about the real hearts of men even though we probably wouldn't say two words to each other, beyond a polite and slightly embarrassed "gesundheit" if somebody sneezed. At the end of the day one or both of us would just wander off into the fog and that would be that.

16. If you could be a literary character, who would it be? George Smiley! Or Harriet Vane. They're my fictional heroes.

17. Have you ever written a fan letter to an author? Surprisingly no. I did write to Debby Boone once, though. A different kind of hero.

18. Is there any book that, if I professed to love it, you would be turned off? Is there any book that would impress you in particular? Could you turn me off by loving a book: not really. Not even Ayn Rand. People love all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, and obviously I'm working on being less judgey re: the tastes and opinions of others (Magic 8 Ball says: outlook not so good). Unless it was a book on pet dismemberment or something. Or The Book of Ruth. Jesus Christ I hated that book. In a lifetime of reading that was my nadir, a real pit of despair. Could you impress me by loving a book: not really. Light Years, maybe. I have yet to meet a single soul who will talk to me about it. The one person who read it on my recommendation no longer asks me what I'm reading.

19. Is there a book you feel embarrassed about liking? I suppose I'm failing all these questions, but no.

20. Are there books you feel proud of liking or having finished? No. Failed again! Although I did get all the way through The Bridges of Madison County before I tossed it in the garbage. A hardcover book! Right into the garbage.

21. Have you ever lied about having read a book? Of course.

22. Do you keep track of the books you read? Loosely, and primarily to keep myself from buying books I bought previously, and read and disliked, which has definitely happened.

23. How do you form opinions about what you read? Based 100% on emotional/visceral response. That also sounds like a wrong answer.

24. What authors do you think are overrated? Underrated? Overrated: any answer to this will make me sound like an asshole, so instead I'll list writers I can't relate to, on an existential level: Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth. Underrated? Under-appreciated: Carol Shields, Laurie Colwin.


To fall in love with a reader, part 1

A list from Hannah Gersen at The Millions // if you have a blog it would be fun (for Kari, for the internet, for the universe & auld lang syne) if you played along:

Part 1.

1. What was your favorite book as a child? The ones I remember most vividly: Little Women, Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch, and something that sounds horrifying in retrospect called The Boxcar Children. Also the Happy Hollisters (?) and Encyclopedia Brown (any). Plus a lot of crap, I'm sure. I guess it depends on how we're defining "child." Could be "Petals on the Wind" or Danielle Steel's "Changes," (about some changes), or the one about the palomino called "Palomino." Good ol' literal billionaire Danielle Steel.

2. What’s the last really good book you read? I've had some dodgy months lately, books-wise, so I'll say Anne of Green Gables? As if I'm asking. I'm not asking! This is a fact! She's a friend who never disappoints. And I'm currently enjoying Nina Stibbe's Man at the Helm. Nina Stibbe is an example of a light, wry, completely unflappable (and extremely British) voice that I adore.

3. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why? Lately, nonfiction. Contempo fiction is bringing me down, man. The weight of the modern world is in those pages. Everybody wants to be Important. But I maintain some insanely high hopes for The Good Lord Bird (stay tuned).

4. Do you finish every book that you start? If you don’t, how do you decide when to stop reading? No, I can't my waste time on something that bores me. If I'm not engaged by the story or the writing, I'll give it up with zero guilt. It's as easy as changing the channel on the TV: you absolutely cannot win them all. 

5. List your 10 favorite books in four minutes or less. Write it down because you’ll revisit it at the end (in part 3).

Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)
The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler)
Burning the Days (James Salter)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
Birds of America (Lorrie Moore)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
Happy All the Time (Laurie Colwin)
Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather)

Look at that: a bunch of chicks & an alpha male (whose style is uber-butch yet très elegant).

6. Do you reread books? Which ones? Yes—all of the above.

7. Do you read poetry? Why or why not? Yes—I like words that play.

8. Do you remember the first “grown-up” book you read? Forever! by Judy Blume! Which felt illicit and terribly grown up at the time. It passed from person to person in Biology class, like a rare and precious fruit fly.

9. Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? I don't know, Harper Lee? Margaret Mitchell? I'm no completist. Jane Austen maybe. I'd have to consult my oracle.

10. How often do you read books that are more than 100 years old? A couple of times a year.

11. Is there a type (or types) of book you never read? Sci-fi/fantasy: would do but with few exceptions have not. Lazy girl, me. Stuck in ruts. But I've promised a friend I would look up Terry Pratchett, so. (Stay tuned.)

12. How do you choose what to read? Mostly I read whatever Dwight Garner tells me to read.


Irrelevant & invisible

Social media has come to symbolize, for me, the tyranny of having to appear relevant, visible and clean to everyone else, the inability to define my own boundaries and the uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow to the fundamental structure of this tool that I’m using – all the while someone either makes money off of me or adds to the looming amorphousness trying to stay afloat.
— Waffle, "Community Services"

Easter context

It's so easy to make me laugh that I occasionally fear I might be an idiot.

Mulder, it's me, you sexy fruitcake

I've been playing fast & loose with mid-'90s nostalgia since they announced The X-Files is coming back: late-night Netflix binges, The X-Files Files, main titles ringtone. There's just nothing like getting a spooky digitized sci-fi call from your dentist (trust no one). 

Flashback 1996 from Entertainment Weekly, also then in its glory days, when I read this collector's issue into the ground. And I still want to be Scully when I grow up. Nobody could cock a weary brow like Scully, if you know what I mean.

Then of course there's Faux Mulder:

+ 9 episodes to get you hooked, Scully likes science, and there's a tumblr called Fox Mulder's Wristwatch that fingers crossed will get more material

Killing dreams

Many personal apps and gadgets have the effect, or at least the intended effect, of formalizing informal activities. Once you strap on a Fitbit, you transform what might have been a pleasant walk in the park into a program of physical therapy. A passing observation that once might have earned a few fleeting smiles or shrugs before disappearing into the ether is now, thanks to the distribution systems of Facebook and Twitter, encapsulated as a product and subjected to formal measurement; every remark gets its own Nielsen rating.
— Nicholas Carr

The same thing happened when I added ground flaxseeds to my plain instant oatmeal at the behest of the eye doctor: suddenly the fun was gone.


Geriatric hostel

At a weak moment today I caved and paid money to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in a real live movie house. I took a seat on the end in the very last row and immediately regretted it, since the lady in front of me kept standing up to stretch her back and legs, which was distracting. I'm working on my tolerance issues, though, so for a time I tried to let it slide. I tried to remember what it's like for me to suffer through a concert in the seats at Carnegie Hall, and then I remembered that I stay away from Carnegie Hall for precisely that reason (knees). When the movie started I assumed she would stay seated, but nope, and when my empathy inevitably ran out I just moved up to a middle row. It felt like the path of least hostility and one I wouldn't regret later, unlike the embarrassing habit I have lately of blowing my fuse in the public square, and I managed to do it without acting even a little bit huffy, which is proof that I'm finally maturing. Namaste.

I wouldn't call this movie "the worst," nor was it successful, it was just... a diversion, I guess. Nice to get the walk in. Nice to see some faces. Support the troops. On a cinematic level it was like reaching the popcorn in the middle of the bag, after you've worked your way through the delicious buttery top layer but before you hit the kernels at the bottom, which is where you really start wondering what you're doing with your life. Bland, but better than eating an actual paper bag.

Most of the plots made zero sense; they were all weird little roundabouts of repetitive scenes with no forward motion. Why would you waste these actors that way? They're a precious species, you don't invite them over to a pool party just to make them tread water the whole time! Let them swim laps! Toss out some floaties! Serve piña coladas! Plus the whole gist of the enterprise is that these folks come here to lead vital lives that still have purpose and value, yet the storylines treat them all like daffy old bumblers who pause to contemplate their own mortality approximately every five minutes then get right back to bumbling. I did pay to see the first incarnation, of course, which had the exact same problems, so joke's on me for being some kind of starry-eyed miracle-expecter.

Richard Gere, though: still a fox.