Archive for September, 2008

Turning the page

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

As we prepare to turn the page of the calendar into the vast void of yet another month, we cannot help but feel apprehensive about what lies ahead in the coming thirty-one days. We no longer have the safety of summer when long, languid days led into short, sultry nights and the mythical moments of unlimited possibilities made our wildest dreams seem almost possible. Now that autumn is definitely and defiantly here, we must face reality and the sure knowledge that winter is waiting in the wings.

It would be easy to put September behind us if it were not for the fear that October may hold even more chilling news than its predecessor, and the months ahead hold scant promise of better times. As always in the past, Americans will deal with whatever they must, and we shall triumph over adversity by confronting it headon. But, like the end of a year and its transition into the specter of an unknown dozen months, this year we are facing a particularly frightening future. It is fitting that October ends with a day when ghosts and goblins haunt our habitats and foster our fears.

If there is any good news to be found within the financial fiasco unveiled in recent weeks. it is that perhaps we shall take stock of our lives and learn that more is less and excess is simply more of more. Nothing is free, and when we have more than we need, we owe more than we can afford. If we can leave our children little else, perhaps we can leave them the example of the trouble we encountered by wanting everything and getting what we want. That thinking has led us to the brink of disaster, and disaster can be averted only if we come to our senses before it is too late.

It is my hope that the coming month(s) will be pleasant one(s), a time of hope and not of hopelessness. Let us tear off those pages and give some thought to how we might make the blank ones opportunities to concentrate on what we have rather than on what we may have lost.

Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

One of the rewarding aspects of reading a good book is sharing it with others.  A special young woman made my day by stopping in the library to share this wonderful title.

Things I Want My Daughters to Know examines how those facing terminal illness can continue to affect the lives of loved ones.  Readers will not find long discourse and clinical discussion of disease.  The author uses journal entries of the vibrant and loving Barbara, mother of four girls, to strengthen each of her daughters on their respective journeys into womanhood.

There are few of us today haven’t been touched by cancer in one way or another.  The author’s work is a reassuring validation that life moves along for the living sheltered by the strength of those whose memories are held dear. 

I urge readers to pause and reflect on the truth and beauty of the author’s words on page 358. 

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

This summer flew by and last night it was time for another gathering of the in person R&R Book Club.  In an earlier post I discussed how I made my way to join this group of learned ladies for book fun outside the walls of WDFPL.

The gathering began around 7:00 and I made my way through the fog down the winding road to a world of new ideas and great conversation.  I had never been to Susan’s place before and the beautiful warm natural materials of the home coupled with the soaring ceilings gave the feeling of escapism to a vacation retreat.

Snacks and drinks were plentiful mirroring the opulence so prevalent in the pages of The Great Gatsby, one of the reading selections for the evening.

This book club is a clever group.  They selected The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian for the summer reading selections.  Earlier this summer I dragged out The Great Gatsby thinking “here we go again.?  Upon earlier readings, I missed the depth and style of the work and am not alone in my ignorance as Robert Redford, Jay Gatsby on film, read it as a boy in school and admitted that it did not hold his attention at the time.  He concurs that he couldn’t get around emotions in his youth, yet reading it several times later he gained appreciation for the words. 

I highly recommend reading the books together and will not spoil the plot of The Double Bind in this review.  Here are some parallels I see between the books.  The Great Gatsby portrays characters with wildness that can’t calm down; they are always searching for a good time.  The Double Bind portrays Laurel searching for answers much in the same way.  There is a frenetic pace to both novels.  There is world weariness about both books and in both cases aging includes recovering from something traumatic.

The Great Gatsby is told by Nick Caraway from an outsider’s perspective.  Nick expresses disapproval of the lavish lifestyle of the characters much in the same way that the narrator in The Double Bind condemns Laurel’s mother and associates for their unaffected lifestyles throughout the book. Subtle references to the lavishness of American life also build through the content of Laurel’s photos in The Double Bind.  In both cases, the narrator documents the novel with complex reactions to American society of the time. 

In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s obsession leads to his decline while the same can be said for Laurel’s obsession with the photos that leads to her decline in The Double Bind.  Main characters do not want to confront truth in either book.  Quick bursts of dialog and poetic references to America are posed by both authors.    The Great Gatsby and The Double Bind contain insightful storytelling.  The works suggest we break with the past, but can we?  Is it easier and/or safer to create one’s own sense of reality?

A great novel keeps teaching you things.  I was truly impressed by the deep dissection of the works at the book club meeting.  Several members had reread the books and discussion detailed analysis of plot, characters, photos, and questions from support sources. 

Thanks to the members of the R&R Book Club for sharing great friendship and insights.  The Double Bind discussion lasted until 10:30 p.m. when I had to leave to pick up my daughter and, yes, the group was still talking about books!

Thanks to The Big Read audio guide for making The Great Gatsby clearer in my mind this morning.  – “Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.? 

Personal reflections from a WDFPL friend

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008, 11:10 AM

It is a clear, cool, fall-like day here in West Deptford, with just the sound of planes flying in and out of Philadelphia to disturb the silence. And yet that sound is a reassuring one, for it means that so far at least it is indeed a normal day. Just seven years ago, on a day much like this one, the world changed forever when planes crashed into buildings and fell from the sky, and we knew that nothing would ever be the same.

On September 11, 2001, we had not yet returned home from Maine, and we were having a leisurely cup of coffee in the kitchen of our rented summer cottage when my classical radio station interrupted a concert to announce that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. We nearly tripped over each other in our rush to reach the living room and turn on the TV. We were just in time to see the second crash,and then we knew that the first one had not been a tragic accident. We became glued to the television screen and saw the string of unbelievable incidents unfold throughout the morning.

By afternoon, we could no longer endure the sense of horror and sorrow and made our way to a public place where people were gathering to console one another. Although we felt relatively safe in our island retreat, everyone felt a loss, and a number of residents and vacation holdovers like ourselves were uncertain about their family and friends back home. One local woman was worried about her husband who was due to return from a business trip to the West Coast that evening.. It turned out that he was safe in Seattle, but she did not know that for over 24 hours, and he did not get home for nearly a week.

By late afternoon, an impromptu service had been arranged at a local church, and the turnout was truly impressive considering the scant notice given. It was an inspired decision to bring people together to share their anguish, their faith or just their fear. No one was yet sure who was responsible for the unconscionable acts that had been committed, but to know that the people assembled were united in grief was a positive thing.

Every American can recall where he or she was on September 11, 2001, and just about everyone has heroic stories to tell. Heroism was observed in many forms, including the simple acts of kindness that we bestowed upon one another. In the immediate aftermath of the event, much of the world mourned with us and shared our pain.

Seven years have passed, and the pain has dulled to a chronic ache, but we have learned to deal with the past that we cannot change and try to move on to a future that is uncertain but holds some promise. Life will never return to its pre-9/11 innocence, but we must face the reality that confronts us and at least try to recapture that spirit of common purpose and commitment that we demonstrated seven years ago.

Peace to all my family and friends

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

After reading “The Book” and having previously planned a trip to Sarajevo, I was intent on seeing the original Haggadah which is the subject of the novel. Luckily, The National Museum of Bosnia was only ten minutes from my son’s house. Soon after we entered the museum, however, we realized the descriptions of the artifacts were in Bosnian. As we looked in the first exhibition room, I heard a young man speaking English. He was a history teacher guiding a group of college students from The International Summer School of Sarajevo and he invited us to join his tour. The highlight of our visit was of course “the book”. It’s in a room dimly illuminated by a pale blue light. Visitors can’t enter the area, but can see the rich illustrations through a glass door. I was surprised to see such vivid colors in the old manuscript. It was gorgeous! Also our guide shared that one of his distant cousins helped hide the Haggadah during the last war. This was truly a memorable trip. Betty Tarquinto