Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Quest for Silence

A recently published study notes that one of the things people value most about libraries are the quiet space they provide. Having a quiet safe space to read or just think was viewed as more important than research resources and internet access. It was only after reading this study that I really considered how much I too value quiet.

Growing up, I was always trying to find a quiet place to continue my adventures in Narnia, to help Encyclopedia Brown get his man, or to keep Wayside School from falling down. I remember sneaking out of the house on cold crisp days, laying in the backseat of my parent's car, kept warm by the sun shining through the windows. On warmer days I would just head off into the woods with a book in my hand. I found a perfect place next to a very small stream underneath several large trees. I built a bridge over the stream and I would sit on it listening to the water run beneath me as I turned page after page. At night, I would lay in the bathtub long after the water had grown cold getting one last chapter in, periodically answering my Mother's knock on the door, assuring her that I had not drowned. I loved spending time with my extended family over the holidays, but whenever we visited Mamaw's I would bring a book along. As the evening hours crept in I would sneak to the back of the house and make my way upstairs to continue my reading.

Perhaps this love of quiet places explains my fascination with Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, a book about a boy who escapes from his eight brothers and sisters to live in the wilderness of Upper State New York. If I could find a hollowed out tree like Sam Gribley, I thought, I bet I could get some reading done. Every time my mother took my sister and I to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History I tried to figure out how I could live there like Claudia Kincaid did in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. How nice and quiet it would be at night.

I remember waking up by myself in the house one day during summer vacation. I took a book outside on the porch and just sat and listened to the quiet. It was so quiet I felt like I might be the only person left in the worldI always thought it would be cool to be in this guy's shoes, especially as I have 20/20 vision.. It was perfect.

Nowadays my house is filled with the screams and laughter of two perfect little children. I can't begin to describe the joy they have brought to my life. And yet, I think I might be overdue for a trip to the library.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

So Much for My Happy Ending

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses key plot points of Into the Woods (the musical), Twin Peaks (the tv show), The Bourne Supremacy (the movie), and the following novels: Max Barry's Lexicon, Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, and Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. If you don't want any of these spoiled I would probably skip this post.

One of my favorite musicals is Into the Woods, a fairy tale mash-up in which JackFrom Jack and the Beanstalk., Cinderella, Rapunzel, a Baker and his wife, and even the Witch find their happy ending before intermission. The Baker and his wife are able to break the curse the Witch placed upon their home and conceive a child. Cinderella goes to the festival and marries Prince Charming. Jack becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams. The Witch’s youth and beauty are restored.

But despite all the hilarity and good times in Act I, Into the Woods is my favorite musical because Act II shows what happens after Happily Ever After. The wife of the giant Jack slew follows him down the beanstalk and begins wreaking havoc. The Baker’s wife is seduced by a straying Prince Charming. The latter abandons Cinderella (he was raised to be charming, not sincere) and the former is killed by the Giant. Jack’s mother is killed. In other words, shit gets realAct II starts with the characters singing a song entitled So Happy, which ends abruptly when the giant's wife starts raising hell. The song can be found here. Shit gets real at 1:58..

My wife loves Act I and wants to leave at Intermission. I love Act I, but I have to admit I’m always anxiously awaiting the carnage that awaits in Act II. For whatever reason, the unhappy ending is what seems most powerful to me. The stories that resonate with me are the ones that are not wrapped up in a nice tidy bow at the end. I don’t want the star-crossed lovers to overcome the obstacles placed in their way and live happily ever after. I want Newland Archer, sitting on the park bench looking up at Madame Olenska’s apartment unable to knock on her door. I want Agent Cooper slamming his head into bathroom mirror, possessed by the evil demon BOB. I want Isabel Archer getting on that train and heading back to her son of a bitch husband. Endings like this just seem to have a greater impact on me. They have more emotional kick. I think about them long after I've finished reading them. They feel more real.

Which bring me Max Barry’s Lexicon. The book is one helluva ride. The first chapter starts with two guys kidnapping a man named Wil and the reader has absolutely no idea what is going on. The next chapter focuses on a sixteen year old girl named Emily who is recruited to join a special schoolLike Hogwarts or Xavier Institute For Higher Learning but this school teaches kids how to use special words to persuade people to do almost anything they tell them to do.. Wil and Emily’s stories continue to alternate chapters and part of the fun is figuring out just how their stories relate. When I realized that Emily was the bad guy hunting down Wil I was blown away. I felt it was an awesome choice for Barry to make. Instead of retelling Harry Potter’s story he was giving us Voldemort’s origin. But then it was all a lie. Emily had unwillingly been under the control of Stock Villain #1 (creepy old man who wants to remake the world in his image). Ugh. Then I thought Barry salvaged it by having Emily sacrifice herself by persuading Wil to shoot her to save the worldIt’s complicated, just roll with me here.. That’s a powerful ending right there.

Then I turned the page. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Somehow Emily survived (Wil probably just shot her in the shoulder through and through) and they are currently living happily ever after. Booo! I hope all you happy ending lovers are pleased. Just know that when Barry writes the inevitable sequel I will be rooting for Wil to get waxed Bourne Supremacy Style in the first chapter so Emily can spend the next 400 pages following her current prime directive: KILL EVERYONELike I said, it’s complicated..