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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rainy Day Travels

THE RAIN is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Rain”

It was raining metaphorical cats and dogs this morning. Sarah had no interest in playing with them, so we had no big outdoor adventure with which to start our day.

Tuesday had its own frustrations, chief among them that of a technology challenge—specifically, knowing exactly what I wanted to do and attempting repeatedly and failing to achieve it. Do you ever want to scream, “Just give me paper, paste and scissors!”? That’s how I felt. This morning it was back to the drawing board--er, screen (damn!)--and success not nearly so elusive. Practice and experience do help....

Taking a break from frustration yesterday, I tossed away my semi-resolve to save the last chapter of the Jerry Dennis book for March and dived right into “The Scent of Spring.” Luckily for me, most of that chapter was still focused on winter, and I say “luckily” because the whole book has sharpened my anticipation for cold and snow, short days and long, dark nights, howling winds and drifts across the driveway. Crazy? It will all come, whether I anticipate or dread it, so why not welcome the season? The Windward Shore has blessed me in advance.

But I still wasn’t ready to return to the screen and the stubborn, demanding programs after one wonderful, last chapter of a beautiful book. Computer programs only speak their own language, you know. They make no attempt to understand mine. The HELP function can only help me if I know what the program calls what I want to do. It must be this way, I realize, and yet--.

What to do? I picked up another book. One of my customers had brought in a box of paperback books for trade credit and recommended Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, a novel set in Nigeria in the 1960s. My first job in Michigan in 1967 was at the University of Nigeria Program office at Michigan State University. All those bills of lading to Nsukka! A slide show by one of the visiting Nigerian professors! All of us wanted to go, but Adiche’s novel tells of the turbulence and violence of that period. She has, moreover, the gift of being able to get inside all of a diverse cast of characters and show us the world through their eyes: an intelligent young boy come to the city from a country village, a wealthy and beautiful young woman in love with a Nigerian professor, and a shy Englishman trying to find his place in the world. Through these multiple perspectives the confusion is not dispelled, but we see that it was (as it always is) part of the cultural and political situation. And we yearn for the safety and happiness of the characters as the story unrolls. I have only reached the beginning of Part II, so that’s all I will tell you for now, but I’ll give you a tiny sample of the author’s beautiful writing:
There was something polished about her voice, about her; she was like the stone that lay right below a gushing spring, rubbed smooth by years and years of sparkling water, and looking at her was similar to finding that stone, knowing that there were so few like it.

That is the character Olanna, seen through the eyes of her lover’s houseboy, Ugwu.

Well, then, later, at home, after dinner and our evening movie, “Iron and Silk,” set in 1980s Hangzhou, China, I picked up A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward and reached the end of that book of letters to the newspaper editor. Again, confusion, uncertainty, heartache—as you would expect from letter-writers asking for advice. What grief human beings give themselves and each other! And yet, I also think, with what courage do they go on, day after day, year after year!

Books and movies let me travel the world and travel through time, as well. David and I enjoyed the trip we took together to Hangzhou, and I was thoroughly involved with my temporary “friends” in Nsukka and New York. I feel tenderness for the people I meet in them, fictional or real, living or dead. They help me understand myself and those around me. They remind me how simple and fortunate my life is, too.

New at Dog Ears Books today: Adam Gopnik’s latest book, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food; brand-new reprints of The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, and The Borrowers Aloft; and, finally, an audio box set (12 CDs) of the new memoir by Roger Ebert, Life Itself, 14 hours of listening for your next long road trip.

What? You're going on a real trip? More real than my travels, do you think? Let's compare notes!

4 comments:

Dawn said...

Lots of indoor adventures going on up there, some on the pages of the book, some with the computer. Hope Sarah enjoyed her mini vacation from adventure!

P. J. Grath said...

Given the choice, Sarah (like Osa Johnson) would always choose real adventure. There are days, though, when I can't help regretting that dogs can't read.

Dawn said...

Are you SURE they can't read? Sometimes I wonder if they're keeping all their powers to themselves so we don't muck with them.

P. J. Grath said...

If her eyes were open and she had a book in front of her, I might entertain the notion, Dawn. Oh, heck, I'll entertain it, anyway. It's an entertaining idea!