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Pickle Me This

August 8, 2010

From what I read over the past week

Another literary lost umbrella(!), this time in Barbara Pym’s thoroughly enjoyable A Few Green Leaves: “It was not until she had gone too far along the street to turn back that Emma realised that, possibly in the stress of some obscure emotion, she must have taken Claudia’s umbrella in mistake for her own. And it was an umbrella of inferior quality. She wondered what the possible significance of that could be.”**

(**Update: Upon reading Pym’s autobiography, I learned this was based on an actual incident reported in her notebook, which, I think, constitutes *another* literary lost umbrella)

And then I fell into At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman, my one complaint about being that its lovely cover got a bit manky when I used it to kill a mosquito. “One of the convenient things about literature is that, despite copyrights– which in Emerson’s case expired long ago– a book belongs to the reader as well as to the writer. The greater the work, the wider the ownership, which is why there are such things as criticism, revisionism and Ph.D. dissertations. I will not ask the sage of Concord to rewrite his oration. He will forever retain the right to speak his own words and to mean what he wished to mean, not what I would wish him to mean. But I will retain the right to recast Man Thinking in my mind as Curious People Thinking because time has passed and the tent has grown larger.”

Then I turned to Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (except that my copy is called Thank You All Very Much, which was the title of a film upon which The Millstone was based). “I was not of course treated to that phrase which greets all reluctant married mothers, “I bet you wouldn’t be without her now, so often repeated after the event in the full confidence of nature, because I suppose people feared I might turn on them and say, Yes I certainly would, which would be mutually distressing for questioner and me. And in many ways I thought that I certainly would prefer to be without her, as one might prefer to lack beauty or intelligence or riches, or any other such sources of mixed blessing and pain. Things about life with a baby drove me into frenzies of weeping several times a week, and not only having milk on my clean jerseys. As so often in life, it was impossible to choose, even theoretically, between advantage and disadvantage, between profit and loss: I was up quite unmistakably against No Choice. So the best one could do was put a good face on it, and to avoid adding to the large and largely discussed number of sad warnings that abounded in the part of the world that I knew.”

Next was Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, which was beautiful and difficult, and uncannily channelling Joan Didion in spots. “‘Blackness’, as [Zora Neale Hurston] understood it and wrote about it, is as natural and inevitable and complete to her as, say, “Frenchness” is to Flaubert. It is also as complicated, as full of blessings and curses. One can be no more removed from it than from one’s arm, but it is no more the total measure of one’s being than an arm is.”

And finally, Darwin’s Bastards, which I’m not finished yet, but how (in particular), I’ve loved short stories by Jessica Grant, Douglas Coupland, Mark Anthony Jarman, Timothy Taylor, and Elyse Friedman.

Such fun. Honestly, my vacation books could not have been more perfectly chosen.

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