Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Missing Piece


I'm a big fan of Karen Blixen's memoirs of Africa, and particularly the movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It takes quite a bit to make colonialism attractive, and the British were terribly good at it, a skill that's reflected in Blixen's work.

When I read from that era I try and put aside my judgments in order to understand the confidence with which the British and others approached their takeover of "primitive" corners of the world, Kenya among them. Otherwise the paternalism is quite appalling--even though some colonialists nevertheless seemed inclined to appreciate the rich native cultures and ecological wonders they were destroying in the name of civilization.

Having read Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, I sometimes wondered how the details of the movie came to be. There's something coolly intellectual about Blixen's style; I always suspected she held something back, hinting at her love rather than displaying it fully.

The movie, on the other hand, is gauzy with nostalgic affection for Kenya, its people, and the life of work, safari, and society found there. I suppose part of the difference can be attributed to the movie version's focus on the love story between Streep and Redford's characters--definitely a source of happiness, at least for a while--and how that feeling of heartfelt affection can overwhelm setbacks and trying circumstances.

Now, having also read The Flame Trees of Thika, I feel I've found the missing piece. I would love to know if the screenwriter also read this book before taking on the script, or if the director, cinematographer, and others involved in its making were familiar with it. It brings the era to life.

Huxley's perspective is that of a child, with a child's acceptance of unusual events, abiding curiosity, lack of prejudice, and dislike of adult-imposed limitations. Her attitude informs the stories from this book and brings the characters to life. Her charm, humor, insight, and outright affection give this book a golden glow, and the adult sensibilities she brings to this memoir in writing it years later give her childhood self a pleasant "wise beyond her years" dimension that I found very enjoyable.

Fortunately, Huxley wrote other books, and I look forward to reading them someday.

Excerpt:

Nervously, I touched the leopard; the flesh was warm, it seemed impossible that anything so splendid, so magnificently made, and so instinct with life should be lying there drained and empty. I fingered one of its great pads, large as a plate, rough as sandstone, and yet springy and yielding, and ran a hand down the great sweep of its flank, built for speed like the flank of a race-horse; I could feel hard sinews under a silk-soft skin and sense perfection of design, not a single wasted molecule of tissue, nothing in excess, nothing lacking, nothing ugly or misshapen, the whole thing molded by its purpose into a miraculous yellow engine of speed, ferocity, and skill. Why did it have to be dead and useless, the agents of putrefaction at work already in its clotting blood? I knew the answer satisfied my elders--it had failed to respect their property, their goats and calves and dogs, but it was a beast so much finer than the miserable goats it preyed upon . . . that for a moment, as I touched the leopard, that answer seemed ridiculous; rather one would have offered goats as tributes to a creature so imperial.

Note: I read this book for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and used it for the letter K (Kenya) in the Where are You Reading? Challenge, and it's also my first candle-book for the Birth Year Reading Challenge! Yay, me.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

And Then There's This Guy

We have a new wave of caterpillars, or maybe new variations of the same old caterpillars.

They're fun to watch, as they truck along on their own busy business. But you have to look carefully before you touch anything outside!

And by "anything," I mean the hose bib, the trash can, the doorknob, the bird feeder . . . .


Friday, April 14, 2017

Paradise, Indeed


It's that time again. I haven't attended since 2013, but this year it's on the calendar in big red letters. Who knows what treasures await?

April 21 - 23 in St. Petersburg, Florida, if you're interested. Or just visit the website or Facebook page, and dream on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Puttering

I like puttering. I should do it more often.

Tonight I have read the paper and put it into the recycling bin. I also put the stapler and scissors back where they belong, so they are no longer threatening to topple the various piles of paper stacked on my desk.

I also opened a book I received in the mail and added it to my lists, and put away the envelope, and shelved the book for future reading.

Then I spent an inordinate amount of time removing several stickers from another book, so I could add it to the bookshelf in appropriately pristine condition.

I consolidated my shopping and To Do lists from various scraps of paper into one larger scrap of paper.

How nice to be doing the little chores without stressing (or even thinking about, truth be told) the bigger ones that await.

Tomorrow I'll be back to work, with a bunch of tasks clamoring for attention, including quitting the gym (again!), opening a new checking account, some time at the library's book store, and then heading out for an evening event with friends in another town, and who knows what else.

But for now, I'm going to go read. There's no reason not to enjoy a few more hours of leisure, while I have the chance.

Meanwhile, Kayak Guy has spent his evening installing a new toilet in the guest bath. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Into Each Life, A Few Mystifying Books Must Fall


I've talked before about the mixed blessing of list reading, which forces me to read books I wouldn't otherwise choose, with sometimes thrilling, sometimes challenging results. This Man Booker Prize winner is one of the latter.

Despite my general aversion to the genre, I'm able to recognize that The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a tremendously inventive racial satire of Swiftian proportions, with perhaps a little Pynchon (my nemesis) and Vonnegut thrown in for good measure. It's crazy and sometimes funny and whenever you think it's going to settle down and behave like a traditional novel, it starts doing handsprings all over the furniture--again!--and you don't know what to think anymore.

I'm not sure why this is hailed as such a breakthrough. Racial conversations are highly charged, and rightfully so, and I recognize that I personally need to do more to escape my lens of white privilege, even as I consider myself a sensitive, open-minded person. Time for more research and expanding my personal horizon.

In the meantime, any decent review will have a summary of the plot and this review from the New York Times is excellent, so I have little to say beyond a recommendation that before undertaking this book you brace yourself for a deluge of the n-word, some flat-out inventive hyperbole that may make you laugh aloud while perhaps also offending you to some degree, and plenty of pop culture and literary inside jokes that are fun if you get them. Mostly you should sit back and try to enjoy the experience, in the same way you might set an intention to enjoy a visit from, say, The Cat in the Hat.

Excerpt:

The sirens were half a town away. Even when the county was flush with property tax revenue on overvalued homes, Dickens never received its fair share of civil services. And now with the cutbacks and graft, the response time is measured in eons, the same switchboard operators who took the calls from the Holocaust, Rwanda, Wounded Knee, and Pompeii still at their posts. . . . In clumpy folds, the paint oozed over the left half of [Foy's] face and down the length of that side of his body, until one eye, one nostril, one shirtsleeve, one pant leg, and on Patek Philippe watch were washed completely white. Foy was no Tree of Knowledge, at most he was a Bush of Opinion, but in any case, it was obvious that, publicity stunt or not, he was dying on the inside. I looked down at his roots. One brown shoe splattered with paint from the milky waterfall that sluiced through his goatee and fell from his chin. This time there was no doubt that he'd lost it, because if there's one thing a successful black man like Foy loves more than God, country, and his ham-hock-limbed mama, it's his shoes.

Note: This book counts toward my quest to read all the Man Bookers, the Color Coded Reading Challenge, and the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. It's also the D location in the Where are You Reading Challenge. Whew!