Entries in It has turned her brain (70)

Monday
Apr022007

Truth Lies Beyond

"And sometimes to a sky and sea uniformly grey a touch of pink would be added with an exquisite delicacy . . . this 'Harmony in Grey and Pink.'" — Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove

After a chat with my best pal Kara, I've definitely decided to re-read Proust. I read Remembrance of Things Past in my late teens/early twenties (it's a looooonnnnnnng series), but when I mentioned this fact to my future mother-in-law back when Patrick and I were dating, she opined that one couldn't really understand Proust until one was at least forty years old.

Well, I hit the big 4-0 last November, so I've been contemplating for months that perhaps it was time to see whether Mother was right. Last week, Kara mentioned that another mom we both know is going to tackle the French giant, so I'm going to give her a call and see if we can offer each other support along the Guermantes way.

Anyone want to join me? I'm reading the 1981 Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation, which is now out of print. I've linked on the side bar the nearest approximation I could find. Maybe after we're done, we'll read this and see whether our experiences compare. Let me know!

Other things I need to start this week: the tomato, melon, and cucumber seeds!

Wednesday
Mar142007

All Books, All the Time

I saw Julie Wright's post on this game and couldn't resist. I don't know who came up with the list, but it's an interesting mix.

Take a look and see which ones you’ve read. Then, if you’re a blogger, post it on your blog. If you play, leave me a comment so that I can come visit! Here’s what you do:

* Bold the ones you’ve read.
* Italicize the ones you want to read.
* Leave in normal text the ones that don't interest you.
* Put in ALL CAPS those you haven’t heard of.
* Put a couple of asterisks by the ones you recommend.

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)**
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)**
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)**
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)**
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)**
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)**
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)**
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)**
10. A FINE BALANCE (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)**
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)**
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)**
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)**
17. FALL ON YOUR KNEES (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)**
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)**
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)**
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)**
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)**
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)**
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)**
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)**
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)**
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)**
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)**
37. THE POWER OF ONE (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible **
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)**
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)**
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She's Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)**
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)**
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)**
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)**
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)**
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)**
59. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)**
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)**
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)**
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)**
71. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)**
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson)**
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)**
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)**
79. THE DIVINERS (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)**
81. NOT WANTED ON THE VOYAGE (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)**
84. WIZARD'S FIRST RULE (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)**
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)**
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)**
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. BLINDNESS (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Michael Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)**
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)**
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)**

Friday
Mar022007

The End of the Prophets

It took us fourteen months, but we did it. This morning we finished reading The Old Testament in our family scripture study time. The kids all felt an enormous sense of accomplishment (letting out a slightly irreverent whoop), and Patrick and I were a bit misty as we read the last beautiful verses of poor, lonely Malachi together.

It works out nicely, too, with Hope getting baptized tomorrow to mark the transition between old and new. Monday morning we'll jump right into the Gospel of St. Matthew; Hope will get to read out of her bran new grown-up scriptures, and Tess will start with the edition of The New Testament everyone secretly envies: the one with pictures and maps on every page.

Thursday
Feb082007

Variation and Interpretation


Last Friday night I was driving home from Book Group. It was late and it had been snowing for several hours. I love being alone in a black night with snow; it always reminds me of one of my favorite paragraphs in the world, the last sentences of James Joyce’s The Dead:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Karen, Melissa, and I had carpooled to Book Group over at Camilla's house in Golden’s Bridge, chatting the entire time. On the way home, after I dropped off my two friends, I turned on the radio. I had for company someone playing the piano. I half-recognized the piece, but there was something so different about what I was hearing that I didn’t make the connection for a minute or two. Then it hit me with a flash: it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And played on the piano, not the harpsichord—but it didn’t sound like Glenn Gould.

I find it particularly appropriate to listen to this piece of music when the rest of the world is asleep. Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations for a Count who struggled with insomnia; the Count had asked Bach to write some clavier exercises to be played in the middle of the night, something to soothe and cheer him through long, sleepless hours. The Variations are named after the Count’s talented young harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; I imagine the poor young man being roused from slumber on any given night to play for his patron, because the Count apparently never tired of hearing them.

The Variations were published in Bach’s lifetime, but for many years afterward were regarded as dry, rather difficult pieces to be played on the harpsichord. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a brilliant young pianist changed popular opinion of Bach’s piece forever.

I know Gould’s landmark 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations as well as I know any piece of music. I’ve listened to it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It has been a great friend to me, as the Variations were for the Count who commissioned them. But what I was hearing Friday night was so alien: haunting, personal, almost painful in its execution, where the version I know—lively, technically flawless—evokes a detached, peaceful mood.

Puzzled, I drove on and thought about our meeting earlier. We had had a intelligent and compassionate dicussion of a modern classic: Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Its main character, Susan Burling Ward, has chronic myopia when it comes to the life she has chosen; throughout her life, she compares her situation unfavorably to that of her best friend, Augusta. She doesn’t realize that she has within her grasp all the ingredients for a wonderful existence. Her interpretation of herself, the reader easily sees, is faulty. She has, in fact, married the better man; her life of ‘exile,’ as she terms it, has defined and refined her work as an artist, not limited it.

One woman in our group raised a question: How do you know when to be content? In other words, when you are in the middle of living one of life’s countless challenges, how do you stop looking over the fence at seemingly greener grass? It’s a good question, and an old one, one that has given philosophers pause for centuries. After a lot of thought on the topic myself, I think the secret lies in our interpretation of what we’ve been given.

Happiness is a choice; for some it’s a harder choice than for others, but it is there all the same. One need look no further than Victor Frankl for proof of this truth. I myself have been given all the components for a perfect life: good health, every temporal comfort, lovely friends and children, meaningful work, and a dear man who loves me.

But if I’m not careful, I can take the route Stegner’s heroine takes. I can focus exclusively on what I see as being wrong: my weight; brain chemistry that defaults to a baseline level of melancholia; the current state of our yard; the child who is misbehaving on any given day: the list could go on for quite a while, if I let it. But that interpretation of my life is a sure path to misery; I believe this is one of the points Stegner is making in his beautiful book.

Once home, I sat in my dark car in the driveway for few minutes so that I could discover the identity of my mystery musician. At the stroke of midnight, after the last few notes of the Aria died away, Bill McGlaughlin came on the air and informed me that it was, indeed, Glenn Gould playing the Variations—but that this was a performance recorded shortly before Gould’s death in 1982.

This was the same music played by the same artist I thought I knew so well. But the interpretation was so different that it changed the piece completely. Older, wiser, at the end of his life, Gould let his life inform his art and transform it; he put himself wholly into his work, and both were changed thereby.


Stop looking over the fence and start doing all you can to green up what you’ve got. Take plenty of time to rejoice in its verdure, and take plenty of time pay respects to the Source of all that is good and green. It is simpler to write than it is to live, but the secret to happiness is in the interpretation.

Thursday
Feb082007

Hurray for Jane!


Good news! Let's have a parade! My blogging idol, Jane Brocket, has gotten a publishing contract for her book The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It's due to come out in the U.K. in October; I can't wait until it is available here in the States. She'll be preaching to the choir when it comes to me (and to you), but as a perennial choir member, I've always enjoyed receiving preaching.

Jane is such a lovely writer--contemplative, articulate--and has the all-too-rare gift of not taking herself too seriously. Her devotion to her family comes out very clearly in all she records. She's also quite talented when it comes to many of the domestic arts--plus, she loves Cary Grant. She's pretty near perfect, in my book.

She has my warmest congratulations. If you want a treat, spend some time going through her blog archives. You won't be sorry; if you're like me, you'll come away inspired and renewed.

I'll update you when the book is available; I'd love to help make it a bestseller here, so that she'll be forced to make a U.S. book tour, and I'll be able to meet her in person (yes, shades of the Brent Spiner encounter). Keep your fingers crossed!

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