"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Thursday, February 20, 2014

About Me and "The Lover's Dictionary"


The Lover's DictionaryThe Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BE AWARE: The next to last paragraph of this review may constitute a spoiler.

I was prepared to give this book four stars out of five right up until I read the last entry--the one for the letter Z. I had not expected to like this book, but I did. I did not expect to be hooked by this book, but I was. I suppose if I had not liked nor been hooked by this book, I would have cared much less about the betrayal of the reader that is the final chapter.

Still, let's grant what works, which is most everything in the entries for the first 25 letters of the alphabet. First off there is wit and there is humor. The prose is lively, accessible, and thought-provoking. It greets the reader like a great first date. Though the format is devoutly episodic, a well-constructed character arc sustains the suspense over the book's full length. There is the deepening sense of a fling turned into a longer fling turned into a genuine relationship.

There is celebration. There is mourning. There are idiosyncracies. This book masterfully plays out the savory messiness of coupling. There are chocolates and flowers in the form of brilliant notions well worth espousing. There are chapters where I found myself arguing with the book and then realizing arguing is okay. It happens. You can learn from it. You can come out of it stronger and closer.

Then I arrived at the letter Z. The letter Z provides no closure. On purpose. The letter Z tries to make an orgasm out of uncertainity. It tries to enshrine the tension of wondering what will happen after your companion says, "There's something we need to talk about." For a book that spends so much of itself achieving marvelous realizations, the choice to end on a question mark feels like a cop-out.

To be clear, I think this is a four star book. But right now I need to punish it for betraying me. So, The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, I am only giving you three stars. I am also saying we are done. I slam the door in your face. I say that you failed me when I needed you most. When I needed a romantic novel with the courage to say that all relationships end either in breakup or death, you chickened out. You dashed my hope and I do not think I can forgive you. All that great writing just so I can find out right at the end you are a tease?


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Following Woolf 'To the Lighthouse'

To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The lighthouse, so far as I can tell, might as well be the convenience store or carwash, or any number of mundane places that somehow become what any given day is all about for a family. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is at least as concerned with time, or timing rather, as it is with place. But if you put a lighthouse out there in the distance, you can have chronically stationary characters say things like, Why don't we go there instead of sitting here? Then you have conflict. Then you have a moving plot, even as the characters remain stationary.

For much of this book, the main character seems to be the sociable Mrs. Ramsay. She embodies mother and wife as the hub of a family's identity and purpose. I've seen this in real life, at family reunions especially--groups of adults and children gathered together, relating and interacting with zeal. Yet if anyone is honest, they confide that the only reason the reunion is even happening is because the matriarch wanted and pressed for it. That's not quite what To the Lighthouse is about, but Mrs. Ramsay is that type of matriarch. She exhibits that type of hold on her friends and relatives. Her conflict becomes everyone's conflict. And in the book's first half that means debating the merit of a family outing to the lighthouse.

How does Virginia Woolf turn this mundane scenario into a full-length novel worth reading? To use a popular intellectual phrase, she unpacks it. With remarkable levels of detail, all which feel relevant and significant, she lays bare the myriad anxieties and distractions that live in an instant of time. Family get-togethers are laden with subtext (read baggage). Time can stall as you contemplate it. Suspense comes in the waiting for someone to speak, especially the man of the house--whom everyone mistakenly credits with being responsible for and in charge of the gathering.

To the Lighthouse was not a tremendously enjoyable read for me. Still, I found myself in awe of Ms. Woolf's sensitivity and insight. She fully explores the depth and significance of each moment. In so doing she justifies the plodding pace and the long sentences that I often had to read twice to grasp. This is not a convenient novel to read. It is not prose candy. Still, as one who has often lived life in the excruciatingly pensive way Woolf's characters do, I felt enriched by the prose.

Thank you, Virginia.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

A Vision of the Rising Moon

JAXA astronaut and avid tweeter, Koichi Wakata, shared this marvelous view of the rising crescent moon as seen from the International Space Station. Tranquility!

Photo Credit: NASA

Click image to see full-size version!