Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Creep Factor

I pick up a new book. I begin to read. I love it or I hate it or it's okay...not great...I am not committed one way or the other. How long should I wait to see if, having started out slowly, the book will improve? I do not like giving up on a book I've started, so I'll try to wait it out. Of course, if there are multiple new books that I am excited to read, the time span I'll allow a so-so book is significantly shortened. And, let's face it, as I get older the time I have left for doing anything comes with more of a premium.

I remember opening the box that contained The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle, The Book Thief, and Sea of Poppies. I began with the much-hyped Sawtelle. I forced myself to finish it, suffering the seemingly endless journey in excruciating pain, praying for the end...which finally and mercifully came about a week later. I declared it to be the worst book I had ever read, impossibly overwritten, badly in need of editing, and boring. Most of us can overlook some of those defects, but there is no forgiveness in my heart for boring. Many people loved the book, comparing it to Macbeth. The comparison makes me shudder. I have read Macbeth...Macbeth was a friend of mine...and Sawtelle is no Macbeth.

My Sawtelle experience occurred a few years ago, but it was brought to mind recently when I picked up The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. They were on sale at Barnes & Noble for $4.98 each - which, if you look at it from one angle (my favorite angle) - represents a savings of at least $20. Of course, viewed from a different angle (from which I can never see clearly) one could say I am $10 out-of-pocket (with tax) for two books that could have been rented from the library.

I picked up the Tropper book right away. It sounded like a winner to me. The Siebold was a different story. I picked it up. I put it down. I walked away. I walked back to the table upon which it was displayed. Picked it up again. Fanned the pages. Put it back down. Wandered around the store. You know the drill. I did not like the theme. I have always avoided books involving the murder or abuse of children. It was against my better judgment that I finally carried it to the check out counter. Bones had received very good reviews and it was on sale, but from the beginning I felt I made a mistake.

The book is well written and is not in the least boring. In fact, I made it half-way through in less than a day. Nevertheless, I put it down and started This Is Where I Leave You, the theme of which is a Jewish family with "issues" whose members are forced to endure each other as they sit Shiva (seven day mourning) for their dead husband/father. It is very clever and funny and I'm enjoying it very much.

How do I describe my reaction to Bones? It is not a book one particularly "enjoys." Having said that, I can't say I "enjoyed" The Book Thief either. Nevertheless, I would recommend that book without any reservation to anyone who asks me for reading suggestions. From what I've read of the Sebold book, thus far anyway, except for the disturbing first chapter most of the story (which is told in a child's voice) is not as difficult as I feared. I figured that if I got through the first chapter it would be smooth sailing. Perhaps therein lies the heart of the problem. The innocent voice that speaks the story is the same voice luring the reader to a dark place where a malevolent character stalks around its edges. In short, there is an unrelenting essence of creepiness mixed with childhood innocence that I, as the reader, am finding very unsavory and I am unsure whether my reading time might be better spent elsewhere. From the first few pages, I fully realized what I was getting into, i.e. that George Harvey would be lurking behind the curtains for the duration. Perhaps if I were made of stronger stuff...but returning to that neighborhood might be a little too unsettling to make it worthwhile.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sea Wisdom

There are times, for reasons I cannot explain, when melancholy descends. I’m not sure melancholy really nails the state of mind I am trying to describe. I’ve searched for the correct word...the definitive word for that feeling. Stress isn’t correct, nor is depression, nor worry. Should I be required to create a word for it, what would it be? Overwhelmsion? That word might almost work. Even if it remains unnamed, when the mood strikes, I know that if I go to the sea my fuzzy head will clear, my spirit will be lifted, and I will return home a little more like myself than when I set out.

It was overcast and humid this morning, but I held out hope the rain would wait. Shorty, almost 91 years old, and I set out for the beach to look for shells. I put on my yellow sunhat that looks like Pooh’s rain cap and handed Shorty her straw hat. She didn’t take note that it was her very own garden hat, nor did she question why it was hanging in my hall closet, nor why her suitcases were in the back seat of my car. I hope she will not ask but I plan. After she has gone upstairs to bed this evening, I will sneak back outside and carry them in. I will unpack them quietly and launder the clothes she will keep and then those we will donate and put them into the appropriate stacks. This evening, as she has done for the last few days, she will ask me if her house is ready and when she can "go home." Once again I will not tell her the truth. "In a few weeks," I will say, but I will not be completely honest. I will not tell her she is to live with me now. I will not tell her yet. Not today. Soon. But not today.

Eventually, however, the news must be broken and the storm will come. When that happens, after it happens, I will find some time to take myself down to the sea and sit on my favorite bench swing and look out toward the horizon. I can breathe there...breathe in that briny oxygen. I realize it is only an illusion, but I cling to the faulty reasoning that nothing really bad can happen within sight and sound of the waves. The birds soar and dive and soar again...with a silvery fish plucked out of the surf as easily as I would pluck a flower. I cannot pretend to know the names of all the sea birds I watch. I recognize the pelican, of course, and the gulls. But is that little bird who runs so quickly on such short legs a sandpiper? Is that larger, longer-billed bird pecking in the wet sand a tern? Every time I go down to the sea, I vow to buy a bird book "soon."

Today, we walked a good portion of the beach. It was overcast and, although humid, the wind blowing off the ocean was cool. We didn’t find any shells of note, but as Shorty correctly pointed out, "We need to come when the tide is just going out." In the days when I had a boat we would run out to Little Tybee, not accessible by land, and find lovely shells. The children were young back then and I would tell them not to take shells that were being rented by hermit crabs. Those shells were their homes, I explained. Some of the shells collected in those long-ago days are scattered here and there on bookshelves and tables in my home. They adorn a picture frame. A bag of them is tucked into a drawer awaiting some long forgotten project. One small scallop shell is attached to the end of a ribbon bookmark. Every now and then I’ll pick up a conch shell and listen to the roar of the waves and I imagine I can hear my own words whispered back to me, "Don’t take that one. That one is someone’s home."

The summer people are almost gone. In another month the beach umbrellas will have been folded and carried away until next season. Those of us who remain, who do not come in search of a golden tan but who long for oyster season and squally seas and stinging salt spray, will be there listening for wisdom in the rush of the waves .